How to talk safely about suicide online

This article discusses suicide. If you feel like you’re going to act on suicidal thoughts, call 000 if you live in Australia. A number of crisis support services are also there for you – have a look at our urgent help page.

There may be times when you want to talk online about suicide, or about your own experience with suicidal thoughts or behaviours.

We know that some young people feel safer talking about suicide in online spaces because that’s where they feel more heard or accepted. This could include posting in an online forum, such as ReachOut’s Online Community, to seek help or advice on what to do if you or a loved one is dealing with suicidal thoughts or feelings.

Alternatively, you may want to share your recovery journey on social media to encourage others who are struggling to seek help.

This article explains how to talk online about suicide in a way that doesn’t cause harm to yourself or others. It will also touch on how to talk safely about someone else who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, or who has died by suicide. You can read more about talking about suicide safely online at Orygen’s #chatsafe website.

1. Think about why you want to post this content and who will see it

Before you hit ‘publish’, think about why you are putting this post out into the world.

If you are struggling or feeling alone, you may want to share what is happening on social media as a way of asking those in your network for help.

If this is the case, it could be more useful to chat to someone directly – for instance, by calling Lifeline (13 11 14) or by talking to one of their counsellors online. Trained professionals will be able to provide you with immediate support. If your life, or that of someone you know, is in danger, call 000 immediately.

You could also consider publishing your post in a mental health forum moderated by professionals, such as a ReachOut Online Community. There are guidelines for talking about suicide on our Online Community here.

If you are writing about someone else's experience, or about someone who has died by suicide, remember that their family and loved ones might see your post.

2. Include a content warning

If your post discusses suicide or self-harm, or contains content that might be distressing to some readers, consider providing a content warning at the beginning.

A content warning is a short statement that tells readers what topics are mentioned in the post, like the one that we provided at the start of this article. That way, your audience can make a choice about whether to keep reading. For example, you could write: ‘Content Warning: This post discusses suicide and self-harm.’

3. Be mindful of the language you use...

Be careful not to reinforce any myths or misconceptions around suicide.

You could acknowledge that suicide can affect many people, and that there are many factors that may cause someone to struggle with suicidal thoughts or feelings.

Don’t say that suicide is a ‘cry for attention’, or that it’s ‘selfish’ or ‘cowardly’. If you are writing about someone who has died by suicide, avoid speculating about why they took their own life. Don’t call them ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’. Avoid suggesting that suicide is a criminal or sinful act.

You also want to avoid using any language that glamourises suicide, or suggests that it’s the right thing for someone to do if they are struggling mentally.

4. ...and of the images or videos you share

Never share images, cartoons, videos or animations that show how someone can end their own life. Not only might these be distressing for someone else to see, but they may encourage vulnerable people to try and copy the behaviour.

If you do want to share helpful and appropriate images, photos or videos (related to coping strategies or help-seeking), consider providing a content warning first and posting this content in the comment section or feed below, so that readers can decide whether they want to see them.

5. Share messages that promote hope and recovery

Take the opportunity to remind others that it’s 100 per cent possible to recover from suicidal thoughts or behaviours, and that help is always available.

If you are writing about your own experience with suicide, focus on parts of your journey that show the importance of seeking help early. You could also talk about some of the people, activities or actions that supported your recovery.

It’s also good to include the phone numbers of mental health and suicide prevention services and helplines at the beginning of a post. Some phone lines you could mention include:

6. Practise self-care

It’s a good idea to have a plan in place in case you feel upset after posting about your own or someone else’s experience with suicide, or if you see a post on this topic that brings up intense feelings.

You could:

  • talk to a trusted adult, friend, doctor or mental health professional about how you are feeling

  • physically step away from your phone or computer, or log out of your social media accounts

  • hide certain posts on your feed, or unfollow users who are posting content that causes you distress.

What can I do now?

  • Share what's going on for your in our supportive ReachOut Online Community.