On Sunday evening, I was stopped cold by posts I was reading on my Facebook stream.
These weren’t the usual inane “repost if you love your aardvark” stuff or photos of someone’s dinner plate. (I’m glad you enjoyed your burrito, but I’ve never quite understood the whole food-bragging thing.)
These posts were much different.
At first, I thought they were pranks. But as I dug deeper into them I realized they were very serious. Deadly serious.
They were pleas from troubled people. As they went on, they grew more desperate and sad. And frightening.
Frankly, I’m embarrassed to say I wasn’t sure how to respond, although I felt a strong need to get involved. Especially after the way they deteriorated.
These were people I don’t know personally and I had no contact information for either. So my options were limited. In one, a young woman started by calling out for friends on Friday night.
“Arnt you suppose to be finding a job young lady?” a relative responded to the woman, whose Facebook page features photos of her and a pre-school-aged boy.
“lol job interview is on Monday!” the woman responded.
But the playful call for friends soon took on an edge. Within a few hours, her shout out became an urgent demand to get high.
“Someone get me high please?! I need meth right now” she eventually posted, adding her phone number.
A few of her friends responded with suggestions she get help and requests she call so they could talk.
She ignored them and escalated her demands.
“Tweaker tweaker Amber alert i need meth” she wrote.
“Anyone have any dope to share? Who can get me high I need shardies. Asap!!!!!!!!”
As her cravings intensified, so did her postings.
“Why will no one help me get high? I need meth friends. Will do whatever to get meth right now please I need help.”
Her postings were shocking enough. But then I read the response of some of her “friends” who turned into a mob, calling her “#Trainwreck” and “#bagwhore.” Others scolded her and urged her to consider what her family and son would think.
She replied her son had been taken from her by relatives so nothing mattered.
One friend posted a crisis hotline for her to call. But it seems she eventually got what she wanted. Her posts ended Sunday with a celebratory and defiant message to her friends:
“Deuces fb. Found my girl crystal. He he he. I love it you love it? I love meth you got something to say about it? Leave a msg after the beep!!”
I just sat in amazement as that stream unfolded. The other, unrelated stream prompted me to try to help.
“I’ve got no car. No job. No phone. No girlfriend. No medicine. No home. No immediate family . . . Death or life, this may be the last time we speak.”
Next he posted a series of “last” events in his life, listing what his last meal would be, last song, and so forth.
Convinced he was serious but not knowing how to reach him, I responded to him that he was scaring me and I gave him a couple phone numbers of crisis hotlines where he could talk to someone who specializes in suicide prevention.
A few others posted supportive messages as well. And I was heartened in the morning when he reported to his Facebook friends that police had knocked on his door at midnight, suggesting a friend had called them. Although the despondent man said he slammed the door in the faces of police, at least he knew people cared.
A few hours later, the crisis had passed and he apologized for his “inappropriate public display of personal and private pain.” He also vowed to start a life of sobriety from chemicals.
I wish him well.
But it made me wonder how common it was for someone to melt down so publicly on social media. And I wondered what I should have done differently. So I called a couple experts.
I learned that social media is becoming a common platform for those suffering depression to reach out, according to Erin Fowler, a counselor and master clinician at AspenPointe, the mental health and substance abuse experts.
And, as I was shocked to see, “friends” don’t always respond in a healthy way.
“There’s a lot of these cries for help that go out on social media,” Fowler said. “For many, there’s a stigma attached to calling a suicide hotline so they won’t call. But they can reach out online.”
But their “friends” don’t always help with their reactions.
“It can escalate your depression,” Fowler said. “If you are predisposed to depression and isolation and you see all your friends having glorious lives on social media, it can make you feel worse. Then you feel rejected if no one responds to your post. Your desperation and isolation escalate with every post.”
And if someone decides to mock you, a mob mentality can develop and it can drive a desperately lonely soul over the edge.
“It’s the dark, ugly side of Facebook and social networks,” Fowler said.
So what should I have done?
In the case of the woman seeking meth, she posted her location and phone number. Authorities easily could have found her.
And had I thought harder, I’m sure I could have found the suicidal man simply by messaging his friends.
But should I have called police to check on him?
“If you are concerned somebody is going to take their life, absolutely get a health and welfare check,” Fowler said.
And Colorado Springs Police will respond to such requests, said Barbara Miller, department spokeswoman.
“We want to help people,” Miller said. “On request, we’ll do a check on the welfare of an individual and offer assistance.”
That’s what happened with the man who was threatening suicide. Police knocked on the door. He slammed it and they left.
If the person is alone and despondent and no one else is at risk, there’s not much else police can do, Miller said. Only if others are deemed at risk, due to weapons or threats, will police aggressively intervene.
“It’s not a crime to commit suicide,” Miller said. “It’s a difficult situation. And we would never want to cause a person to take their life because of our presence. We have to be thoughtful.”
On second thought, post all the aardvarks and burrito photos you want. I know how to deal with them.
If you are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, here are some mental health experts who can help . . .
AspenPointe Crisis Center
Pikes Peak Mental Health
24 hours / 7 days
Suicide Prevention Partnership/Metro Crisis Line
Pikes Peak Region
24 hours / 7 days