Social media’s wail or whimper

This week I wrote a blog for mindshare and thought it was quite apt for my own blog. 

Recently Channel 7’s Sunday Night featured a story about Olivia, a teenager who committed suicide after relentless bullying exasperated her depression and anxiety. Her story revealed a secret life she lived via her blog on tumblr that often carried what they referred to as her ‘dark side’.  There she posted suicidal messages and found bullies urging her to either do it or shut up about it.

Her close friend wrote another blog for Channel 7 about her life with Olivia’s depression and a plea to end bullying. Clearly Olivia had been battling with depression and anxiety for years but her bubbly personality hid it from the world.

While I congratulate Sunday Night for using Olivia’s story to explore the issue of bullying, it was irresponsible for them not to talk about her life of depression. It was a life she expressed online in a world of blogging and social media. It was a world where strangers heard her cries for help before close friends and family.

Last June the ABC reported a young girl blogged about committing suicide just hours before it happened. Her cries for help at the university she attended were mishandled and the care she desperately needed was ignored. Her case prompted Coroner Mark Johns to recommend “a risk management framework be developed to accelerate psychiatric assessment in any similar cases in the future.”

A framework for practitioners is a great step forward, but what about the rest of us?

Social media, in such a short space of time has become intrinsic to the lives of many people. Sharing happy and sad times is now part of the norm. While sharing is fun, cathartic and often engaging how often do we really absorb what someone is saying?

In April this year an online paper for Curtin University talked about ‘Vaguebooking’, a social media term that refers to an endless stream of status updates that aim to create interaction. The paper questions when does ‘vaguebooking’ become a cry for help or a scream for attention?

Often it is hard to tell the difference between the two. Last year I was alerted to a Facebook status of a young artist who felt let down by her counseling and wrote she should ‘just kill’ herself.  Concerned by this cry for help I contacted her colleague and suggested she make sure they are ok. What I thought was assisting them blew up in my face as the young artist frustratingly wrote to me that they weren’t being serious and I just took it all out of proportion.

I tried to point out that social media is an open platform for all to see and when you post statuses like that they impact on people in different ways. Having worked with the Mental Health Coalition I knew not take her status update lightly. Yet in all honesty I was disappointed by her remarks, I thought I was trying to help. Clearly what I had interpreted as a ‘cry for help’ was just a ‘scream for attention’.

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