Suicide Prevention: New Media Increase Options
By Kristin Blank
Tim in Knoxville, TN, remembers the older sister he lost to suicide and describes how he will always love and miss her. In Flint, MI, Anndalyn, who survived a suicide attempt, urges others in despair not to give up. Susan in Anchorage, AK, appeals to people in crisis to talk to someone.
These stories are part of an exciting new initiative from SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Web site called Lifeline Gallery: Stories of Hope and Recovery. The gallery uses a “new media” technology called avatars (see definitions) so that real people can share real experiences.
The gallery’s goal is to raise awareness about the effects of suicide, reduce stigma, connect people to emotional support, and offer help.
“People who have lost loved ones to suicide, people who survived suicide attempts, and suicide prevention supporters can share their experiences in a safe, positive environment by creating an animated, speaking persona,” said Richard McKeon, Ph.D., M.P.H., Special Advisor for Suicide Prevention at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.
Federal data show that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25- to 34-year-olds and the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds in the United States. SAMHSA is continuing to explore new ways to reach people who need help.
The Lifeline Gallery complements the Web site’s traditional methods of providing help. The 24/7 telephone support service (1-800-273-TALK) receives calls from an average of 47,500 individuals each month. Print resources, such as brochures and magnets, also are available.
But in the gallery, visitors actively participate in spreading the word about suicide prevention. More than 215 avatars are already in the gallery, and the site has had more than 16,000 visitors since it launched in June 2008.
The first step in joining the Lifeline Gallery is to choose one of three categories that reflect why visitors come to the site.
- Loss is a forum for people who lost a friend or family member to suicide. You can describe how the loss affected you and how you cope.
- Turning Points is a place for people who survived suicide attempts or experienced suicidal thoughts to discuss what got them through their challenges.
- Helpers is filled with people who support suicide prevention, including crisis workers, mental health advocates, school counselors, and other concerned people.
Next, you create a look. You can choose a tiny purple nose, pumpkin orange hair, a big gold necklace, and a suit and tie. Or you can pick a bald head, glasses with pink lenses, and an evening gown. Your avatar can look exactly or nothing like you.
Once you’re satisfied with your online look, the next step is to add your message. You can choose from several prerecorded options or type in text to be read by an electronic voice. You can also speak your own message by phone.
You’ll find specific guidelines about what to talk about and what to avoid. For example, avoid using last names within the story, describing suicide methods, or discussing alcohol and drugs as a way to cope. You also are encouraged to use the term “died by suicide,” instead of “committed suicide.”
Once your message is complete, you can submit it to the gallery. Every avatar is reviewed by Lifeline staff to ensure that all stories are safe and effective.
The Lifeline Gallery was made possible by a donation from producer James L. Brooks (“The Simpsons,” As Good as It Gets, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) to be used to market suicide prevention to youth.
The Lifeline’s new media resources extend beyond its own Web page. In 2005, the Lifeline created a page on the popular social networking site, MySpace.com (see SAMHSA News online, July/August 2007). That page had more than 5,000 friends.
In May 2008, the Lifeline activated a new page at www.myspace.com/800273TALK. In just 6 months, this page has more than 2,000 friends.
Lifeline also created a page on Facebook, a similar social networking site. As of October 2008, the page had more than 550 “fans.” Users can post comments on the “Wall” and find out how to get more information about the Lifeline and suicide prevention and warning signs.
The Lifeline also is on YouTube, where visitors create and post their own videos. The channel “800273TALK” presents two Lifeline-sponsored videos, one featuring the stars of the television show “One Tree Hill” and another showing a public service announcement that has nearly 5,000 views.
For more information about SAMHSA’s National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. To become part of the Lifeline Gallery or to learn more, visit www.lifeline-gallery.org.
New media—an umbrella term that refers to methods of communicating on the Internet that allow groups of people to meet and share information. New media also allow more people to speak out in their communities and in the world—via a blog or social networking Web site—when they might have no other outlet.
Avatar—a graphic identity either selected from a group of choices or created on your own to represent yourself online.
Social networking Web site—where people connect online with friends, family, and people with similar interests. Members of sites like MySpace and Facebook create online profiles, providing a biography, pictures, and other personal and professional information.