Social media can help ID suicidal teens

February 3, 2012 5:03:29 PM PST
One of the surprises of social media is how open teenagers are about sharing their most private feelings with thousands of strangers. Recently, some Houston area teenagers even tweeted about their desire to commit suicide.

What should adults do, if they see a "cry for help" on social media? You should intervene.

A decade ago, you couldn't get a teenager to write in a journal. Now teens write in the very public journal of social media. The problems they have at school follow them home, sometimes causing them to write about wanting to commit suicide.

"When a child says something about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves, at the very least it signals they're struggling with something," said Dr. Amy Middleman with the Texas Children's Hospital.

But how can you tell the difference between teenaged venting and a red flag of suicide? Dr. Middleman says these are tweets to worry about:

  • "This baggage I'm carrying on my back is heavy."
  • "It is like God is torturing me keeping me here."
  • "I finally got a gun."
"This is an extremely serious sign," Dr. Middleman said.

Those tweets were written by a Houston teen who killed herself with a gun. She says normal venting sounds more like this: "My heads says who cares but my heart says you do, stupid."

If you should see something on social media that looks like a cry for help, what should you do?

"If you're on an account where you can actually respond to the person, a direct comment of concern or is there anything I can do to help you?" Dr. Middleman said.

Ask if you can contact a trusted adult for them and continue being direct.

"Are you thinking about suicide? Do you have a plan and do you have the means to carry out that plan? Yes answers to those questions are extremely concerning," Dr. Middleman said. "If you really think someone is about to pull the trigger or hang themselves, if you have that degree of concern, you should call the police or someone in their area who can access that person right away."

For more information you can contact the Texas Children's Hospital Adolescent Medicine Clinic at 832-822-4887.