It’s important to know how to respond should you encounter a suicide note, as a kind and considerate response could help save a life.
- One in three South Africans experience mental health issues in their lifetime and only one in 10 of those experiencing mental health issues have access to mental healthcare.
- With social media being such a large part of our lives, there has been a rise in the number of people who share suicide notes online.
- The SA Depression and Anxiety Group has a helpful guideline for responding to a suicide note with care, compassion and responsibility.
With online platforms being a huge part of our daily lives, many turn to social media to express their thoughts and feelings. Some even share suicide notes with their online network.
It’s therefore crucial to know how to respond to a suicide note, which could help save the life of someone in distress.
According to the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), one in three South Africans experience mental health issues in their lifetime, while only one in 10 people with a mental illness have access to mental healthcare.
If untreated or undiagnosed, mental health illnesses can lead to suicide.
Data from Sadag reveals that South Africa records 23 suicides a day and 230 serious suicide attempts.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health issues, you can contact:
- Sadag’s 24-hour mental health helpline: 0800 456 789
- SA Federation for Mental Health: 011 781 1852
- Lifeline South Africa: 0861 322 322
Growing trend of online suicide notes
According to a research paper by various health academics published in the National Library of Medicine: “An emerging trend in the past few years is announcing suicide on Facebook. It is observed that young people who self-harm use the internet frequently to express their distress, and there is a rising trend of people dying by suicide after posting on social media, which is found to have assortative patterns.
“Certain users post their intent publicly on social media and then die by suicide, and a number of such cases have been reported.”
Sadag operations director Cassey Chambers says it is crucial to respond with care, compassion and responsibility when faced with a situation where someone shares a suicide or goodbye note online, instead of responding callously or simply with a sad emoji.
“If someone is posting that they can’t do this anymore or negative content of things like ‘What’s hope?’, ‘The world is coming to an end’ or ‘I’m not doing OK’, instead of posting a sad emoji or just telling them to think positively … Sometimes, knowing what to say in that right moment can really help someone,” Chambers told News24.
Sadag has a few essential guidelines that can be followed by anyone who encounters a suicide note online:
- Contact the person directly: Try reaching out to the person who posted their suicidal feelings online. This could be over a phone call, a genuine WhatsApp message or via DM on socials. This gives the person a chance to be more vulnerable in a private conversation.
- What not to say: When speaking to someone struggling with suicidal thoughts, avoid saying things such as: “You have so much to live for”; “Things could be worse”; “How could you think of suicide, your life is not that bad”. That invalidates the person’s feelings in that moment.
- What to say: When having a conversation with someone having suicidal thoughts, it helps to say: “I care about you and want to help you”, “I’m sorry you’re in so much pain”; “I’m worried about you and I’m here for you, please can we chat?” This reassures the person that there is hope and they are not alone.
- Encourage the person to speak to someone: When speaking to someone who might not feel comfortable sharing anything with you, it helps to encourage them to reach out to a close friend or family member, Sadag counsellor or a trusted teacher or colleague.
- Get friends or family involved: After having a conversation with the person and feel that they are much more relaxed, try and also reach out to their family and friends to strengthen their support system, so they know that they have a safe space to go to should they feel overwhelmed again.
- Encourage them to contact a mental healthcare professional/organisation: If you have tried to support the person and still feel like you weren’t able to help in any way, avail to them resources such as the Sadag Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0800 567 567 / SMS 32312 / WhatsApp on 087 163 2030.