Why Your Copypasta Does Nothing to Increase #SuicideAwareness


Dear Slacktivist Friend,

You’re probably going to think I’m a world class prick for saying this, but your half-assed attempt at being supportive of suicidal people by parading around a hashtag is a fucking joke.

What, exactly, do you think an awareness campaign is? In what strange, warped version of reality are you living in where simply repeating a word with an octothorpe slapped in front of it does anything to inform on a subject, especially one so complex and delicate as suicidal ideation? Without information to backup your sad little hashtag, the post is meaningless, and you’ve insulted anyone who struggles with these dark thoughts by not even bothering to slap 1-800-SUICIDE on there.

If you want to truly be an ally to someone who is suicidal, you can do a hell of a lot more than just hold your finger over some text on your phone and paste it into a Facebook status you will never think about again. There is so much information that can be included that will give volume to the hashtag!

Statistics about mental illness is a good place to start.

As mentioned in a previous post about the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, the Canadian Mental Health Association reports that 20% of Canadians will personally experience mental illness within their lifetime.

Why does this matter? Because instances of suicide are significantly higher among the mentally ill. The Toronto chapter of the CMHA stated the following:

People with mood disorders are at a particularly high risk of suicide. Studies indicate that more than 90 percent of suicide victims have a diagnosable psychiatric illness, and suicide is the most common cause of death for people with schizophrenia. Both major depression and bipolar disorder account for 15 to 25 percent of all deaths by suicide in patients with severe mood disorders. According to Toronto Metro Police Mental Health Act data, the number of documented suicide attempts rose 14 percent from 1996 to 2001. Statistics Canada reports that suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in Canada.

Need versus availability of mental health services in Canada is severely disproportionate; and, as someone who one day swallowed an entire bottle of pills because, at the time, it simply made more sense than carrying on in misery, I know how hard that lack of support can hit.

Information about the state of publicly available mental health treatment options are crucial if we are going to seriously talk about suicide prevention. Make people pay attention to the armies of people suffering with unmanaged (and in some cases undiagnosed) mental illness, so that it can’t be ignored anymore.

Be aware that awareness doesn’t mean prevention.

Despite the millions of public relations dollars intended to increase awareness about suicide and its prevention, never once have I thought about a commercial or billboard when debating whether I will or will not just walk into oncoming traffic to make the suffering stop. In fact, there is little or inconclusive evidence about the efficacy of awareness campaign in preventing suicidal behaviour in an individual. A 2005 publication titled Suicide Prevention Strategies: A Systemic Review in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that, “despite their popularity as a public health intervention, the effectiveness of public awareness and education campaigns in reducing suicidal behavior has seldom been systematically evaluated.”

In fact, the report suggested that all the social media and funding behind suicide awareness campaigns may be wasted resources:

Such public education and awareness campaigns, largely about depression, have no detectable effect on primary outcomes of decreasing suicidal acts or on intermediate measures, such as more treatment seeking or increased antidepressant use.

The University of California Center for Health Journalism examined results of other studies of influence of awareness campaigns:

A 2009 study in the journal Psychiatric Services looked at 200 publications between 1987 and 2007 describing depression and suicide awareness programs targeted to the public and found that the programs “contributed to modest improvement in public knowledge of and attitudes toward depression or suicide,” but could not find that the campaigns actually helped increase care seeking or decrease suicidal behavior.

That same report went on to explain that, “Comprehensive evaluation of the impact of these programs presents several difficulties, particularly because of the lack of comparability between programs and between the methods used to evaluate them.”

Basically, there is so much variability in the structure and delivery of these campaigns that there is not a reliable conclusion on their efficacy in preventing suicide or suicidal behaviours. At best, what they do is better inform the general public on mental illness which may lift the stigma; but, again, that is with generous amounts of information accompanying the effort, not just an empty hashtag. And it still has no documented effect on prevention.

Don’t promise someone is always listening.

They’re not. You’re not. No one can possibly be there at all times, regardless of how well-intentioned they may be. The closest approximation anyone can get to always having someone there to hear them in a crisis is to contact emergency services like 9-1-1, a suicide hotline, or going to their local hospital’s emergency department. Any promises other than those listed are disingenuous and potentially dangerous. Unless someone has been specifically trained to assist in the case of an suicidal crisis, no one should have to be responsible for preventing someone from taking their own life. Even then, the gravity of the task is so great that suicide hotline jobs have a tremendous overturn.

In 2013, the Toronto Distress Centre had nearly 1,000 volunteers to staff the crisis line. Of those, roughly 200 people made it to the phone room. “The average volunteer stays just nine months, three months shy of the year-long minimum commitment the centre requests,” reports TheStar.com.

9-1-1 operator jobs within Canada offer salaries ranging from $50,000 to just over $100,000 according to The Globe and Mail. For a job where the only hard requirement is high school graduation, I look at that salary as hazard pay compensation, for the emotional toll it takes.

Always strive to be better than an internet trend.

When someone tells you that you can do more to help with only slight more effort expended than what it takes to share a hashtag, do it.

When someone tells you that they struggle with suicidal thoughts and that they need more support, don’t trivialize their experiences.

When someone politely opens a dialogue about prevention, don’t shut it down with accusations of passive aggression.

When you blatantly ignore the above-noted points in favour of – what, saving your ego from a slight bruise? – expect to be ejected for being an insensitive asshole.

Tyler, all of the above happened. It’s your birthday tomorrow, and after having to text me (because I removed you from Facebook) to ask if I will be making it to the shindig, you still don’t get it. I’m not sure that you ever will, because apparently it isn’t a big deal for you. I still have the screenshots of our discussion, in which you basically said, “You’re right that this post does nothing to help, but I’m lazy. Thank you for the information, but I won’t be using it.”

When the only effort you want to expend on your quest to “demonstrate that someone is always listening” is to jump on the hype train straight through Facebookville, the only thing you’re accomplishing is virtue signalling. You are reaping the social benefits of having your profile picture next to a popular hashtag while simultaneously rejecting substantive action. Your copypasta does nothing to increase suicide awareness, but at least it made me aware of what a self-interested piece of garbage you are.


Categories: health, mental health, popular media

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