#chatsafe: A young person’s guide for communicating safely online about suicide
Although traditional media guidelines have been largely successful in promoting responsible conversation about suicide among journalists and other media professionals, these resources are less likely to be relevant to young people who use social media to communicate about suicide online. For example, existing guidelines for media professionals provide little advice in the way of monitoring social media posts for potentially harmful content and ways to safely respond to someone who may be suicidal online. Despite this, few evidence-based resources are currently available to help guide young people through the process of safe peer-to-peer communication about suicide online.
Our team at Orygen recently developed “#chatsafe: A young person’s guide for communicating safely online about suicide.” The #chatsafe guidelines were developed using the Delphi expert consensus method, which involved two panels of experts: one comprised of Australian youth advocates and the second comprised of international media professionals and suicide prevention experts. The expert panels rated recommendations from the peer-reviewed and grey literature for inclusion in the guidelines. A summary of the core components of the #chatsafe guidelines are shown in the Table. (The full guidelines are freely available for download.11)
Unlike traditional media guidelines, the #chatsafe guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations that are specific to youth and the social media environment. For example, they advise young people to consider the impact of their post on others who may be vulnerable to suicide, provide information on the permanency of the Internet, and include practical information on how to safely operate memorial pages dedicated to honoring the deceased.
Importantly, the #chatsafe guidelines also provide information on how to respond to someone online who may be at risk of suicide. Given recent evidence that shows young people appropriately recognize, interpret, and endorse a desire to respond to those who may be at risk of suicide, the #chatsafe guidelines may offer a practical conduit for suicide prevention (Table).
Recommendations for clinicians/conclusion
Those involved with the care of our digitally expert youth are tasked with the important responsibility of guiding young people through the process of understanding the risks associated with communicating about suicide online. In particular, clinicians who have good awareness of terminology and dynamics associated with online social networks may engage more easily with their younger clients.
Nevertheless, clinicians are unlikely to affect the ubiquitous role that social media plays in the lives of young people, so their efforts should seek to support positive use. Provided the experience using social media is primarily positive, time spent using social media has the potential to operate as a preventive or therapeutic medium that may actually complement traditional therapy. As such, clinicians may benefit from taking clients’ social media use as part of their assessment of social history and suicide risk.
In cases in which clinicians recognize that social media use may be impacting on mental health, discussions can focus on the importance of privacy, respectful communication, thinking carefully prior to posting, and challenging the assumption that content shared on social media is necessarily true. Clinicians should, however, be cautious about accessing patients’ data online without their consent, as such efforts may be viewed unfavorably by patients and may jeopardize the therapeutic alliance.
There is also value in clinicians being aware of their own digital footprint, including the sharing of unprofessional content, engagement with patients in social media environments, or content posted about them by others. Clinicians must also remain mindful of potential boundary violations when writing about clinical experiences and be aware that some patients and families may be skeptical of clinicians writing publically. Nevertheless, appropriate use of social media can be an effective tool for advocacy and education. Some key recommendations include: only write things online that you would say in person, don’t publish content that will only benefit yourself, be mindful that clinicians represent the profession in public communication, and be aware that there is a responsibility to care for a patient’s wellbeing even in online settings.
Ms Hill is a PhD candidate at Orygen, The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, Centre for Youth Mental Health, The University of Melbourne; Dr Robinson is a Senior Research Fellow and Head of Suicide Prevention at Orygen; Dr Rice is a Senior Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist at Orygen.
The authors report no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
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11. Orygen.#chatsafe: a young person’s guide for communicating safely online about suicide. https://www.orygen.org.au/Education-Training/Resources-Training/Resources/Free/Guidelines/chatsafe-A-young-person-s-guide-for-communicatin. Accessed November 20, 2018.