Content Warning: suicide and suicide in media
Around this time last year for Suicide Prevention Month, I decided to post on Facebook and Twitter every week a spoken word video I liked that delved into mental health and/or suicide ideation. With each poem I shared, on Facebook, I wrote a blurb about why I chose that specific poem to share.
Some touched on racial or ethnic identity as it intersects with mental health or suicide ideation. Some touched on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some touched on substance use, chronic illnesses, or other health issues. Some touched on humor or joy as a way to openly talk about the topic. Some even touched on two or more of these topics, because you can’t separate the sum of one’s parts.
Although there are definitely some things that can be improved about social media platforms, I can appreciate a lot about the dialogue on and offline during that month of me posting so much. It especially touched me when family members called and ask questions. It still stinks that I had to write posts with another’s poem, or even share my own poems on the page, in order for dialogue to become effective with family members. Nevertheless, great things came out of sharing so much.
I even decided to post regularly again this year. I’ve shared articles and poems I’ve written, I’ve shared past and recent articles that I didn’t feel were talked about as often as other elevated stories, and I’m still definitely going to share other people’s artistic work again.
Co-Founder of the Trill Project, Georgia Messinger, actually reached out to me after reading my article about mental health and suicide in media for The Tempest. Shout out to CEO Laila Alawa, COO Mashal Waqar, Senior News & Society Editor Asma Elgamal and my editor for the piece, Assistant Social Justice Editor Nushrat Nur for letting me write and publish it in the first place. Kudos to Georgia and more pushing for mental health to be more accessible of a topic for folks to get a hold of.
Whether you use social media regularly during this time, or you make an effort to stay away from social media to take care of yourself, I would like to share ways you can use social media positively this month. In fact, not just this month either. Hopefully, we can normalize dialogue about suicide outside of dedicated months of the year.
Disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert. These are all only suggestions. If you have more to share that I haven’t written, do share it! I hope these find you well.
1.) Content Warnings:
Content warnings (CW)/Trigger Warnings (TW) are helpful in grounding folks before delving into a topic that is shared online. It lets folks know to steer clear from reading said post so they’re not emotionally harmed. It gives them time to come to it later when they’re ready.
This was something I did not do when I first starting posting more on social media about suicide that I have been trying to be more cognizant of this year. Content warnings help meet people where they are in regards to their journey with engaging with hard topics; especially if it’s something so recent or something so close to home in regards to trauma.
This isn’t to say that content warnings are to be required for every post made. This isn’t to say that they’re required at all. It’s just nice to have that when there are already so many things that enter our lives without warning.
Content warnings help meet people where they are in regards to their journey with engaging with hard topics; especially if it’s something so recent or something so close to home in regards to trauma.
2.) Support and Don’t Put Down:
It’s hard enough to talk about mental health as it is. It doesn’t help when people comment things such as “Oh, you’re only doing this for attention,” “You’re not depressed, you’re just sad,” “Why do you have to put people down about this? Just be happy,” or other comments along the lines of that.
It also doesn’t help when you start blaming people for their mental illness or suicide ideation.
Instead, I would highly suggest sharing their posts, retweeting, or commenting things such as “I hear you,” “Let me know how I can support you,” “I don’t completely understand, but I’m glad you’re talking about this,” or other positive boosts along the lines of that.
Finally, I would refrain from commenting “I had no idea!” That’s the point of mental illness and suicide ideation. We’ve been trying so hard to make sure people didn’t know, that’s how internalized it is. So instead of asking that, refer to the positive boosts mentioned earlier in this paragraph.
“I hear you,” “Let me know how I can support you,” “I don’t completely understand, but I’m glad you’re talking about this.”
3.) Elevate More than One Story:
The struggles with suicide ideation is not a monolith. However, not a lot of people acknowledge that with predominantly white, Christian, cisgender, heterosexual, non-incarcerated/formerly incarcerated, and the intersections among these stories of suicide often being at the centerpiece of the media.
For example, in 2016, Black Lives Matter organizer MarShawn M. McCarrel II died by suicide and was not trending as much as the suicides this year of high-profile folks such as Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. This is not to say that Bourdain’s and Spade’s stories shouldn’t be told. They should. This is to say that we need to do better in our conversations around what’s trendy and what isn’t when it comes to suicide and suicide prevention in media.
Also, share stories of marginalized people who are very much still living and breathing and able to share their stories of mental health and suicide ideation. Again, not to say that folks with privilege shouldn’t share their stories, and I’m not hear to put privilege and marginalization in a binary either. Refer to the last few sentences of the last paragraph.
We need to do better in our conversations around what’s trendy and what isn’t when it comes to suicide and suicide prevention in media.
4.) Self Care:
I know it’s been such a buzzword in recent years, but I’m serious. Make sure you are taking care of yourself by taking breaks from social media. Make sure you’re doing something joyful with others on/offline.
In a recent church service I went to, the pastor talked about life giving versus life taking words. Make sure you are immersing yourself in life giving words and actions.
We need you here. We want you here. Take care of yourself.
You’re not obligated to tire yourself into teaching what the world needs to be better at: convincing you to stay living and breathing with the rest of us. To quote actress, filmmaker, and suicide prevention activist Anna Akana, “Just because your life is falling apart, it doesn’t mean you have to lose the desire to live it.”
We need you here. We want you here. Take care of yourself.
If you or someone you know is struggling or just wants to talk, there are resources for you.
About the author: Maya Williams is a poet currently residing in Portland, Maine. She has a Bachelors in Social Work and a Bachelors in English from East Carolina University. She has a Masters in Social Work with a certificate in Applied Arts and Social Justice. She has her poems published in spaces such as glitterMOB, Soft Cartel, The Occulum Journal (coming in November), Underground Writers Association, INTER, The Tempest, and AltFem. She has articles published in spaces such as The Tempest, Black Girl Nerds, and Multiracial Media. You’re more than welcome to follow her @emmdubb16 on Twitter and Instagram. Check out her website here.