Is social media an acceptable platform to ask for help?

A week ago I read a post, which was controversial to say the least, on one of the groups I follow on a social media site. The group is aimed at connecting South African expats within New Zealand, answer immigration related queries and general support. This particular post however was very unexpected and abrupt. A lady posted a photo of a handgun and in the post she admitted to buying it for the purpose of committing suicide. She confessed that she is depressed and has been since immigrating 7 years ago. I found it to be raw, emotional, honest and heart-felt. She was asking for help! She was begging for someone to contact her, reach out to her, show her she is not alone.

Now you can imagine the response she received. Overwhelmingly some members firstly tried to contact one of the administrators of the group who also happens to be a phycologist. Then they responded with constructive comments, telling her that she is not alone and that she did the right thing to reach out. I refrained from commenting at first, and instead I send her a personal message. I asked her if there is anything I can do to help and that it seems like she is receiving immense support from certain members so that is a positive outcome. I also told her that she is not alone as many immigrants often experience depression or anxiety either due to a lack of friendships,  or relationships taking a strain in a new country or from being home sick. I didn’t hear from her straight away, but when I did I was mortified to what happened next. She said that someone called the cops on her and that she received an aggressive message from one of the members. The message was filled with hostility towards her, telling her that social media is no place to post such extremities and that she’s only looking for attention. Now that got my blood boiling!

I do agree that it was shocking and unexpecting to see the post, but since when do we discourage people from seeking help, or place restrictions on when and where to ask for help? Are people so ignorant to the need of others or do they simply not understand the seriousness of mental illness? How many people don’t seek help because of the lack of empathy from others? Or that they are scared of being judged, criticized and ridiculed?

A few hours passed and I didn’t hear back from her. And it wasn’t only me who was concerned. The administrator of the group put out a message asking if anyone who knows her personally can please go out to her place of residence to check up on her as no one had heard from her since. And this is where the floodgates of opinions opened and a platform created for fingerpointing and blame-shifting. One of the comments posted was in support of the lady, a friend of hers (she clearly knew of all that was said via personal messages). Her courage to post her comment gave me a boost of confidence and I put in my 2 cents. I posted one comment, and left the discussion. I needed to express my utter dissapointment and frustration towards those who blatantly blamed her for posting the photo. I know that I possibly overreacted, and that this is a topic so close to home it still hurts but I feel that it shouldn’t be overlooked because it then means we are not crediting the person, not accepting that their feelings are real and true and don’t believe that they really do need help.

Thankfully and with great relieve the lady responded to the comments, expressed her gratitude to those who contacted her and said she is feeling less anxious and can think clearly about her situation. She did however mention that she doesn’t think calling the police was the right thing to do because even though they meant well, it placed more pressure on her to deal with their queries as well as made her panic about the possible outcome.

I am fully aware that there are several people who has not dealt with mental illness before, and perhaps don’t know how to respond to such an outcry for help. I am also not expecting everyone to become warriors, fighting the battle of depression and suicide. I do however hope that the above mentioned controversial social media post brought awareness to the fact that people are suffering, most often in silence, from mental illness. I hope that this makes people stop, look at their friends, family and acquaintances and ask with true sincerity “Are you okay?”

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