What To Do If You See Someone Posting Suicidal Thoughts On Social Media, According To Experts

Natalia Lebedinskaia/Shutterstock

When someone speaks out about their mental health struggles, you might not know if you're the right person to offer support. But even if it's someone you're not close with anymore or even an acquaintance, you may be able to make a difference. Especially because some people turn to social media when they're in crisis — even posting on social media about suicidal thoughts.

"Social media has given us a portal into the most personal thoughts and feelings of everyone and anyone," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "Likewise, it has given us a way to share our own most personal thoughts and feelings with literally the world. What that means is that we are going to be exposed to the distress that comes into people's lives." If you see someone posting about suicidal thoughts on social media, it can be difficult to know what to do next.

Social media keeps us connected to all sorts of different people — acquaintances, old friends, even celebrities — and that when we see someone posting in distress, Klapow says it is possible to step up to the plate and offer support.

One of the reasons it's so important to respond when someone reaches out on social media is that not everyone shares their struggles with with suicidal thoughts. "One sign that someone is in crisis is social withdrawal and isolation which is why social media outlets may be a rare opportunity to reach someone in distress and provide support especially for an individual who is experiencing suicidal ideation," Melinda R. Paige, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, CPCS, assistant professor in clinical mental health counseling at Argosy University in Atlanta, tells Bustle.

If you're not sure what to do, experts say it's all about letting someone know you're there and helping them get help.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 or the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or to your local suicide crisis center.

1. Tell Them You're Listening

PhotoByToR/Shutterstock

The first thing to do is to let them know they're not alone. "Offer empathy and support, 'I care about you even though we don't know each other/we haven't seen each other in a while. I can see you are hurting. I don't want you to suffer and I want to help'," Klapow says. "Do not try and convince them that their feelings are not real (i.e. it's not that bad, you have so much to be happy about, etc)."

If you can, try to engage them in a conversation. "Reach out to the person and express your concern about the content of their post," Dr. Erika Martinez, licensed psychologist, tells Bustle. "Start a dialogue with them to show them you care."

If you are reaching out, it's important that you just do it from a place of being there to support them — rather than assuming you know what's happening to them. "Please don’t say 'I understand' because you don’t," Paige says. "Instead, use supportive language like, 'I’m just so glad you told [me].' People in emotional pain often suffer in silence. It takes courage and strength to reach out and share your feelings. Sharing is a sign of strength and resilience. Give the person an opportunity to be heard and validated so they feel less alone." Paige says you can ask if they're considering suicide — just make sure to provide resources for them.

2. Refer Them To Help

Warpboyz/Shutterstock

Beyond reaching out, knowing where someone can seek help can make all the difference. "You can encourage them to reach out to a national hotline, help them find a therapist in their area, or encourage them or offer to go with them to check into the hospital," Martinez says. "Another option would be to report the post to the local authorities and ask for a wellness check if you know where the person lives."

Klapow says in addition to giving them the national prevention lifeline number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), to direct them to the Facebook suicide prevention page.

Paige agrees to give someone who's posting on social media the national prevention lifeline number, and also recommends these resources:

"Crisis support in Spanish is also available at 1-888-628-9454, Paige says. "The deaf and hard of hearing can call the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.

The LGBTQ community can call the TrevorLifeline for suicide prevention services at 1-866-488-7386.

Veterans can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1. 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Knowing what to do when someone shares suicidal thoughts isn't easy, but you can let someone know you're there to listen and send them in the right direction for professional help. When someone's reaching out, it's OK to reach back.