Your social media feed is likely full of a variety of posts. It may include funny memes, entertainment and news stories, and pictures and updates from friends and family. With so much to scroll through, it can be difficult to spot a concerning post made by a fellow warrior, friend or family member when they may be thinking about suicide.
Learn how to recognize the warning signs of suicide on social media and what you can do to help. Recognizing the signs and taking the right steps can save lives.
What to Look For
Signs of emotional crisis or thoughts of suicide are not always obvious on social media. A fellow warrior, friend or loved one may share that they’re going through a challenging time and may mention feeling hopeless or ending their lives. They might frame these statements as a joke or even include a meme or a lighthearted emoji. Regardless of how casual they seem, these posts can be signs of more serious psychological health concerns.
If someone you know makes comments about suicide or expresses emotional pain online, always take them seriously. Whether it’s a single post or multiple, do not ignore them. In addition to posts that directly reference dying, signs of emotional crisis in social media posts may include those that mention:
- Self-medicating in response to emotional or physical pain
- Feeling alone or isolated
- Feeling guilt, shame, anger or rage (seeking revenge)
- Feeling like a burden to coworkers or loved ones
- Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Expressing hopelessness or having no reason to live
- Saying goodbye or expressing a desire to escape
- Describing methods of suicide
Some of the above signs may be expressed through images as well. If you spot a post that contains one or more of the above signs, it could indicate that the person is in crisis. Do not wait for someone else to respond. Reaching out and taking the right action may save their life.
What to Do
A common misconception is that by asking someone about suicide, you are putting the idea into their head. However, reaching out is one of the most helpful things you can do. If you notice someone engaging with social media in a concerning way, immediately reach out to them through private message or chat, or by calling or meeting with them in person. Starting the conversation can be as simple as saying, “It seems like you’re going through a hard time right now. Can we talk?”
Follow these three simple steps when reaching out:
- ASK: Are they considering suicide?
- LISTEN: Check in with them and see how they are feeling. Listen to their concerns and remind them that they are not alone.
- GET HELP: Speak with a trained crisis responder through the Military Crisis Line. They can provide guidance to you and/or the person in crisis and help connect you with services. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, or chat live online. If they are in immediate danger of suicide, call 911.
Contact the Safety Team
Along with reaching out directly and providing crisis resources, you should also alert the social media platform’s safety team. While each platform’s protocol is different, generally they will assess the post and reach out to the user with resources to connect them with help. To learn more about the safety teams and protocols, visit Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
- Emergency Resources: 911 or Military Crisis Line
- VA’s Social Media Safety Toolkit (non-emergency resource) [PDF 1.1MB]
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Support on Social Media (non-emergency resource)
- Defense Suicide Prevention Office (non-emergency resource)
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center (non-emergency resource)
- Suicide Prevention Tools for Warriors infographic (non-emergency resource) [PDF 2MB]
Ackerman, John. (March 2019). Warning Signs of Suicide on Social Media: What You Can Do When It’s Someone You Know. 700 Children’s Blog.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (September 2018). Support for Suicidal Individuals on Social Media and Digital Media. [PDF 4.5MB]
Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Social Media Safety Toolkit for Veterans, Their Families, and Friends [PDF 1.2MB].
Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2019). 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. [PDF 1.9MB]