Social media can be both a helpful and unhelpful way of communicating following a death.
People increasingly use online resources and social networking sites in their daily lives and this may well be a way in which some people feel comfortable in discussing their thoughts and feelings.
The period following a suicide is one that can involve a great deal of trauma and confusion.
There is no right or wrong way for people to react following a suicide in a university community. Some may be more willing to talk than others about the death. Some may prefer to discuss their feelings outside of the student community.
Social media and the internet enable messages to reach a huge audience immediately. It may be that students and staff first hear news of a possible suicide through social media. It is very common for memorial pages to be set up immediately following the death of a student or staff member. These can be a helpful place to share memories, support one another and share details of funerals. Bereaved families have found that it can be a way of keeping in touch with the deceased’s friends.
The information below will give you the basic information you need about the potential risks of using the internet and social networking sites to help deal with a suicide.
Social media is now the common place location of an online memorial after the death of a person. Most of these are established by a friend and are unmoderated (meaning there are no controls over what is posted), which makes them effectively unmanageable. While these memorial sites seem to be an important part of today’s grieving process and a focal point for both grief and support, they can also attract inappropriate comments. These could include accusations of bullying and deliberately inflammatory comments which can evoke very strong reactions, far beyond the virtual world.
While controlling or closing these sites is almost impossible and would likely be counterproductive, some have had success in mitigating these risks by asking an appropriate group of students, to offer support to the site’s founder in reviewing and moderating any material posted to the site. In doing so, inappropriately-worded comments or direct accusations can be referred back to the person posting them and more appropriate wording or approach can be used. This can also help identify and respond to those who could be at risk themselves and offer guidance with sources and offers of support.
Some points for consideration to enable a safe response to a suicide and reduce the risk of contagion are:
- to send out messages signposting to support both in and out of the university
- to send out supportive messages to the community emphasising inclusion
- to set up a memorial page that is monitored by students or support staff
To monitor social media and university online communities for:
- messages of concern from students
- rumour or speculation
- details of the method of suicide
- messages that suggest suicide was a positive outcome
- messages that indicate someone identifies closely with the deceased
- any concerns that need to be responded to – to dispel myths, identify vulnerable people and report and remove offensive comments
To encourage the student community to:
- send positive, supportive messages
- not collude with rumour
- report any concerns with friend’s posts or messages to staff
- report any impromptu student gatherings to support staff
Samaritans have a list of other sources of support you may find useful.