Facebook and PostSecret: saving lives, one at a time

I couldn’t sleep tonight.  And … tonight, perhaps… perhaps it’s a good thing. It’s an inspiring story … of readers of a semi-obscure-ish blog banding together to help save someone’s life.

Trigger warning: suicide, lots and lots of talk about prevention, mental illnesses… yeah, it’s pretty much all here.

A disturbing post on PostSecret yesterday revealed an illegal immigrant pledging to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge – but 20,000 online voices have responded with hope.

PostSecret, a blog that weekly displays anonymously mailed-in secrets on postcards from across the country, has long been known for revealing suicidal secrets, and has set up a phone hotline in response since the blog began in 2004. Yesterday, a postcard read, “I have lived in San Francisco since I was young … I am illegal … I am not wanted here. I don’t belong anywhere. This summer I plan to jump off the Golden Gate.”

Within 24 hours, nearly 20,000 people had signed up for a Facebook group titled “please don’t jump,” which was later linked beneath the secret on the Post Secret blog, linking in thousands of supportive comments. On the group’s page, sympathetic users posted comments ranging from simply “I want you here” to “If I knew when you’d be at the bridge, I’d drive all the way from Ohio to meet you there, and hold you until you changed your mind.”
While there’s unfortunately no way to know if the card’s writer has seen the overwhelming number of responses on Facebook, one can only hope the community of writers has helped changed at least one person’s mind — perhaps even beyond the person who wrote the card.

This isn’t exactly surprising, the sentiment expressed on the postcard, given the atmosphere in this country surrounding ~illegals~.  Absolutely heartbreaking, but not surprising.  What I was absolutely stunned at was the response.  Or, the responses, plural.  So many, many responses.  At last check, the “please don’t jump” group had well over thirty-seven thousand people in it, and hundreds upon hundreds of posts asking, begging, pleading, for the writer not to jump.

Suicide is a tricky thing.  Some people argue that if you’re suicidal, you shouldn’t be considered, and therefore treated, as sane.  Others say that a suicidal person is fully in charge of their senses and is a heartless cruel bastard who is selfishly ruining the lives of their loved ones.  Others still fall somewhere in between.  Me?  Having been there so many, many times myself, I’ll just state that people who are seriously considering and planning to kill themselves are extremely mentally ill and need help.  Your help, my help, any help.

If you are reading this and considering suicide, please call 1(800)SUICIDE [1-800-784-2433] for help, day or night. That is the number for HopeLine, and it’s helped a very, very large number of people in the past and still continues to do so today.  If you are reading this and you have an active plan to kill yourself or someone else, please call 911 immediately.  Please.  There’s help.  You don’t have to end your life.

Granted, that paragraph may be totally hypocritical of me, since when I was in the midst of my absolute darkest hour, with the pill bottles in my hand, I didn’t want to hear that.  I really didn’t, because I didn’t think I could be helped.  But sometimes you need to go through the motions before you start feeling better.

If you know someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts, here are some helpful hints:

  • Don’t tell them they’re being selfish.
  • Don’t try to wrestle any weapons away from them yourself: call the police, that’s their job.
  • Don’t tell them they’re being a cruel heartless bastard, this will in most cases reinforce their belief that they’re ruining everyone’s lives and everyone will be better off if they just ended it all.
  • Don’t pass judgment.
  • Don’t press them for details/information.  If they don’t want to say?  End of story.
  • Unless you’ve been suicidal yourself don’t say “I know what you’re going through.”  Because yeah, you don’t.
  • Do be available to listen.  As a corollary, don’t get burnt out.  You are not their therapist or psychiatrist, it is not your job to listen endlessly to a person’s life story.  You can if you want to, of course, but don’t feel required to.
  • Do offer to help.  And don’t just say “call me if you need anything!”  Offer specifics.  “Would you like to come with me to the grocery store today?”  “I’m stopping by the post office, need me to run a letter in for you?”  “Do you need any help getting to your appointments?”
  • Do … just be there.  Be there for hugs, as a shoulder to cry on, to eat a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s at ten in the morning.  Be there if they get hospitalized [especially then, to be honest], be there when they get out.  Don’t drop them like a hot potato once you think they’re getting help, because we get that enough as it is.

Depression and other mental illnesses, while treatable, are vastly misunderstood by the general public.  Look at the usage of “insane” and “crazy” to describe various things we think are unwise or otherwise foolish.  There’s a stigma, a very real and very dangerous stigma, attached to these illnesses.  People either think we’re sicker than we are and are a danger to society at all times, OR they think it’s all rubbish.  [Well, no, that’s a false dichotomy.  A better way to say it would be that a large portion of the population falls, generally speaking, into one of these categories.]  I’m still not sure which one is more harmful to us.

This is all a bunch of insomnia-fueled rambling to say: please don’t be a dick to someone with a mental illness.  And if you have time, stop by the Facebook page to leave a message.


1 Comment

  1. wilmashakespeare said,

    June 9, 2010 at 5:09 am

    Will do. And thanks for the ballsy post.

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