There are a number of dialogues about mental health that are profoundly difficult and heartbreaking. The most difficult conversation, however, might just be talking about suicide –especially the suicide of loved ones. There are a number of reasons people avoid talking about this subject, but evading the discussion does not make potential issues go away. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) suicide data, “close to 800, 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds, and many more attempt suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally”. In addition, there have been a substantial number of cases of suicide in which the Internet and social media have been implicated. Teenagers often express their suicidal feelings on social networks and blogs, and sometimes they use these sources to find out about suicidal methods. As indicated by a journal published on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, “the emerging data regarding the influence of the Internet and social media on suicide behavior have suggested that these forms of technology may introduce new threats to the public as well as new opportunities for assistance and prevention”. In other words, sharing in social networks and blogging on suicide can lead to both prevention and contemplation, reason why it is imperative to advocate for the use of social media best practices.
Social Media Best Practices
Mark Schaefer in his book The Tao of Twitter, shares about the three elements he considers the keys to receive tangible benefits from social media interaction in twitter: Targeted connections, meaningful content and authentic helpfulness. He talks about the importance of creating networks, sharing content for humans not machines and prioritizing human interactions that leads to connections. I believe the same elements should apply for blog writing, particularly when writing about suicide. Suicide is a sensitive-delicate topic, and those who blog on the subject may have different meaning, perspectives, and experiences that can genuinely help those suffering and their loved ones. Therefore, it is important to take into consideration that your audience’s believes, attitudes and behaviors could be influenced (both negatively and positively) by what and how you write about suicide.
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, in their book Groundswell shares about the importance of having a strategy with objectives for successful blogging outcomes. Audiences benefit from blog posts that have a purpose and are well thought out. The Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) developed a strategic resource tool to improve public messaging on suicide. The document “Recommendations for Blogging on Suicide” published on bloggingonsuicide.org, was created with the intention of assisting bloggers in writing about suicide in a safely manner and reducing the potential risks of harmful effects associated with precarious suicide messaging. The following best practices for blogging on suicide are a project of (SAVE) and were developed with the guidance and expertise of an international advisory panel of experts and bloggers.
- It is important to set Goals. These goals will help outline your story and assist in evaluating the effectiveness of your message. Some examples of goals include: a) raise awareness about the problem of suicide, b) help someone who is struggling or suicidal, educate a specific audience, or c) help someone who is coping with suicide loss.
- Know your Audience. Usually, a blog will have a target audience who have vested interest in the blog’s content. Keep in mind that some of your readers may be vulnerable. Avoid overwhelming your audience with too much information, data, and content.
- Inspire Action. As a blogger, you have the opportunity to use your platform to educate your audience and/or inspire action. You can ask your readers to: a) reach out for help if/when they need it, b) learn about warning signs and risk factors of suicide, c) support a specific cause or campaign or d) donate to suicide prevention.
- Write Safe Content. Certain content related to suicide can have harmful or even fatal effects on vulnerable individuals who may be contemplating suicide themselves. Avoid: a) describing suicide methods or locations in your post, b) sharing the contents of a suicide note, c) spreading negative stereotypes, myths, or stigma related to mental illnesses, d) oversimplifying causes or trying to pinpoint a single reason or cause of suicide, e) normalizing suicidal behavior by presenting it as common or acceptable, f) talking about suicide as a crime, h) including personal details of the person who has died by suicide.
Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
Schaefer, M. (2012). The Tao of Twitter. New York: McGraw-Hill.
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