Scrolling through your Instagram feed, you come across a particular post. The red, puffy face and tear-filled eyes, all captured in a mug shot-like selfie, followed by a long paragraph about being “done” with all the stress, and not being able to deal with life anymore. Maybe they even end it with “signing off.” Do you comment? Do you text them? Call them, even if you don’t know them? Report it? What do you do?
Social media has become a gateway for teenagers across the globe to express emotions pertaining to mental illness, specifically depression. Oftentimes, peers will view these posts and want to help, but are unsure as to how to go about it without seeming intrusive or simply ineffective.
“Initially, if [teens see others] are struggling, the first thing they may want to do is follow up with that friend, check in with them,” guidance counselor Marcia Johnson said. “After talking to them, that person can choose to say to the friend ‘let’s go talk to the counselor together,’ [or], that student can go to their counselor and say ‘I have someone that I think needs to talk to a counselor.’”
According to Johnson, the counselor will pull said student out of class during the school day to speak with them about how they feel in order to assess the severity of the situation. Depending on the case, after talking with the student, the counselor will call the parent and, if necessary, will refer the student to the crisis center.
The Montgomery County Crisis center is open and available 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. It can be reached over the phone at 240-777-4000 or by simply showing up, no appointment needed. It provides constant aid and evaluation of all and any emergency situations to help both situational and psychiatric crises. Another available resource is to contact a 24/7 text line at 301-738-2255 or to chat online at CrisisChat.org if in a situation.
According to CHS student John*, when he sees posts by their friends pertaining to anxiety or depression, he will text or call that person to make them feel better and try to be supportive.
People often find teenagers to be melodramatic, or might view an alarming post as hyperbolic.
According to John*, it is sad when someone uses social media as an outlet to cry for help and other people perceive their post as crying for attention instead.
Social media sites, such as Instagram, have added features that allow peers to intervene in a less awkward and possibly more effective fashion. Many people may not be aware of the many options and steps they can take to help friends who they may be concerned about.
According to a brochure by Instagram and Facebook in partnership with the Clinton Foundation and the Jed Foundation, anytime one has “a gut feeling that something is not right” with a friend, they should “always act on it.”
The competitive and advanced academic environment CHS fosters produces stress for students, but this stress can cause both positive and negative effects. Positive effects entail a push and strive to constantly work hard and improve, although too much of this stress can become overwhelming and cause students to feel burned out.
“Students go through a lot of difficult situations that can cause stress and depression.” Johnson said. “If you see something, say something. Check in with your friend if they’re not doing well. See if you can find them assistance. Help your friends as best as possible.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the third main leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 to 24 years old.
“Part of social media, like Instagram, is showing off experiences with your friends—but this can lead to a feeling of exclusion and loneliness,” said sophomore Bradley Ferguson, who is an officer of UMTTR. “Social media can also allow for cyber bullying, which is one of the causes for mental illness amongst teens.”
Instagram has added many features to combat mental illness. For instance, if someone searches “#cutting” in the explore page, they will be directed to a page that reads, “Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death. If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to offer help.”
The app has blocked people from viewing posts that tag things relating to self-harm and behavior, such as the phrase “#thinspo” which relates to encouraging eating disorders. Instagram further delves into providing aid by allowing users to view a page with tips and resources for if they are struggling with mental illness.
In addition, viewers are able to report posts they find alarming and/or indicative of self-destructive behavior.
If reporting the post to the site seems ineffective, another option is to reach out to a trusted adult, something CHS greatly emphasizes. Oftentimes, however, students are unsure about who makes a trusted adult.
According to Johnson, anytime there is a situation during the school day, she and the other guidance counselors are available to help. If there is a situation outside of the school day, the concerned student should reach out to a parent, whether it be their own or those of the student affected, as the counselors “don’t want students to try and handle it alone.”
In a less urgent situation, if a peer does not feel comfortable reaching out to an adult, they can also directly talk to the person who they are worried about.
According to the brochure, it is important to let the friend know that they are not alone and that it’s acceptable to feel this way and to seek help. Some adequate conversation starters include: “I’m worried about you because you seem…”; “It concerned me when you said…”; “Do you want to talk about it?”; “What can I do to help?” If they do not want to talk about it with you, you could say, “It’s okay if you don’t want to talk to me, but it is important that you talk to someone.” Always offer to connect them with a specialist or some other trustworthy resource for helping with mental illness.
“At least once a month I may have someone who comes to me or someone brings to me who is dealing with a situation where they need to talk it through and decide whether they need additional help,” Johnson said.
According to a World Health Organization April 2016 depression fact sheet, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression and it is a common mental disorder that is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
Mental illness is never to be taken lightly, and it is critical that one always takes some sort of action whether it be talking to a trusted adult, reporting to the social media site, or talking to the concerning friend when they see any post indicative of self harm in any way.
“If one of my friends was depressed, I would reach out to them,” Ferguson said. “I would definitely tell them that they matter. I think by people telling someone who’s had a rough day, week, month, [or] patch, how much they matter. Just the simple phrase ‘you matter’ can go a long way.”
Help is always available, so something one can always do is to simply let the person know just that.
According to John*, our society’s social norm is to leave the person to deal with their problems by themselves, which is why suicide is a common alternative for people struggling with severe mental illnesses such as depression. Reaching out to them is “incredibly necessary” and should always be the first thing you do to make sure they’re okay.
No matter what the situation is, there is always something a friend or peer can and must do to help another peer whom they suspect is struggling with a mental illness such as depression, as that person may be in danger of harming themself or others.
If you see something, don’t be afraid to say something.
*Name was changed because the source wished to remain anonymous