If you’re worried about someone because of the way they’re acting or the things that they’re posting online, you can:
- Offer them support if you feel comfortable
- Tell someone you trust
- Report it on the platform they’re using so the platform can offer support
How to support someone online if you are worried
Signs that someone might need support
We all experience not being OK differently but some signs to look out for if people are posting about:
- Feelings of distress, loneliness or struggling to cope with feelings or experiences
- Thoughts about hurting themselves or ending their life – for example, having a plan
- Methods of self-harm or suicide
- Detailed or graphic content about self-harm or suicide
- Goodbye messages
- Details of online suicide pacts or challenges that they are involved with
Some phrases to watch out for are things like:
- “I want to give up
- “No-one would notice if I wasn’t here”
- “I hate myself”
- “I want to end it”
- “I feel like a burden”
Not everyone who is struggling to cope will post about it online but instead you might notice changes in their behaviour, such as:
- Acting differently online compared to their usual activity – such as not posting as much as normal or starting to post streams of repetitive messages about their distress.
- Regularly getting very angry and frustrated and sometimes getting into arguments with other users.
Looking after yourself
Offering support to someone in distress can make a big difference but it can also put a lot of pressure on you and you might start to feel overwhelmed or upset.
Try to make sure you take care of yourself. It’s important to remember that you’re not responsible for someone else’s safety. If you're finding that the amount of support you’re offering is impacting on your own wellbeing it’s important to take a step back.
If you feel like you can’t respond, you can tell someone you trust or report the post to the platform so that the user can still get support from others.
If you need to talk about how you are feeling, you can call Samaritans on 116 123, or email on [email protected], whenever you need.
Reporting content and getting support for users
If you think a user is struggling or is posting messages about self-harm or suicide, it’s important to flag it to the platform. This might feel difficult, especially if you’re worried about breaking the person’s trust or getting them in trouble, but reporting means that the platform can get in touch with the user to offer support. It can also help to protect other users from seeing potentially upsetting content.
For guidance on reporting content, see our resource on what to do when you see worrying content online.
Tips for supporting someone online
Show you care – often just telling someone you care and that you’re there for them can be really comforting and can make a big difference. If you’re struggling to find the words you could try the below phrases.
- “I noticed your post earlier about… If you want to talk about it, I’m always here”
- “It seems like you’re going through a difficult time right now but I just wanted you to know that I care about you and am here to listen if it would help to talk”
Other ways to show you care might be sending a supportive image or gif, a song or video that you think they might like or a virtual hug.
Use open questions – use open questions that need more than a yes/no answer, and follow up with questions like 'how are you feeling today' or 'can you tell me more'.
Ask them directly – if you’re worried that someone might be suicidal, it’s OK to ask them ‘are you feeling suicidal’ and ‘have you got plans to harm yourself?’. This can feel scary but it can encourage the person to be honest about how they are feeling and help them to feel less alone.
Ask them what might help – sometimes just asking someone what they think might help can help them to focus on practical solutions.
Encourage them to talk to someone they trust – such as a friend, family member or health professional.
Suggest places they can find additional support:
- Support helplines – such as Samaritans or Shout. If the user lives in another country they can contact Befrienders Worldwide, which has a list of emotional support helplines around the world.
- Organisations specialising in self-harm or suicide support – such as Samaritans, Harmless, Mind, The Mix, Young Minds or Papyrus.
- A health professional, such as their doctor. For immediate support, they could also ring NHS 111 for health advice in the UK and is free from landlines and mobiles.
For a list of organisations that provide emotional support and help for specific situations (such as mental health issues, addiction, and domestic abuse) see our support page.
What to do if someone needs urgent help
If someone has posted something online that makes you think they need urgent help you should:
- Encourage them to call 999 or visit their nearest A&E department
- Report their post to the platform so they can provide support
- Tell someone you trust like a friend or family member
- If you know them, you could tell someone close to them that you’re worried about their safety
You can also call the emergency services for them. If you do this, you will be asked for:
- Your full name and contact details
- The person’s name and location
- Details about their posts
If you do this, try to let the person know, unless you’re worried that telling them might put them or others at more risk. If you can, keep talking to the person until help has arrived.
Supporting someone in an emergency can be really worrying and put a lot of pressure on you so remember to look after yourself and seek support from the people you trust.
What if the user is a child?
If you’re worried about someone online who is under 18 years old, you should follow the tips above and encourage them to contact a trusted adult or family member. If you’re close to the user you could also contact their family or carer.
If a user doesn’t want to speak to someone they know, you could suggest they speak to Childline. Childline provides a confidential phone (0800 1111) and text counselling service for young people up to the age of 19. If a young person’s life is in danger then Childline can help them find immediate support or call emergency services on their behalf.
What if someone won’t accept help
It can be really hard if someone won’t let you help them or won’t ask for help from others. If this happens, you could try:
- Giving them some time and try again later if you feel able to
- Reminding them that you’re there for them and want to listen and support them
- Suggesting they speak to someone else that they trust
- Sending them some options for support to use if they change their mind
- Reminding them that things can change and they won’t always feel this way