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Sunday 12 June 2011: Wooly Trees

Got the chance to take some pictures of the CoolWool installation on Leith Links this afternoon. Had a nice wee walk round Leith with some of the people from The Edinburgh Lo-Fi Group too.

Aside from that we.....went and joined the gym. And bought some trainers. I'm down in Exeter on Wes/Thursday this week so can't to my induction till Friday but am looking forward to it. Now I just need to buy some shorts from one of the specialists shipwrights who do sports clothes for those of bulk.

Thi morning I read this article about a person who got emergency services to somebody on Twitter who had expressed suicidal intent. mental health and the internet is one of my things, and this kind of story always interests me.

Invariably when the press find out that such an intervention has been done, there is mention of the daring intervener, and discussion about why social media should have this role.

Social media has that role because people use it to connect to other people. Therefore people use it to express suicidal feeling and others use it to respond.

I first got help for someone online in 1997, when the internet was a mere lad. I was a fresher at University, and I used mental health newsgroups, IRC chat and ICQ to give and receive peer support.

The person I was talking to was a teenage girl living in Canada. She'd told me a lot about things that were going on in her life, and I and others had urged hr to speak to her parents, sister and people around her. In the end she asked me to write a letter to her mum and sister, which I did. Before it arrived, things came to a head and one day when I was insomniac and in the computer lab in the early hours, she came online in early evening her time. She told me she was home alone, had had a bad day at school, and was home alone till late. She said she had taken a large overdose, and alcohol.

I kept speaking to her, whilst using other windows to find contact details for the local emergency services. I was trying to get her to call herself, but as anyone with experience will know, when someone's mind is set, often they are in a fugue which impairs logical thinking, including thinking about themselves and others. But it's important to keep talking, and keep listening, because those conversations can give tools with which to help someone see reasons to continue.

Anyway, given that she had said she had taken action to end her life which might cause irreversible damage before she regained insight, partly because she was a minor, and because I had her address, I decided to call the cavalry. It's a set of principles i've used several times since.

When it became clear she was too frightened and confused to call, and didn't want me to cause she didn't want her parents to know, I found the local police number, and called them, thousands of miles away.

In those days the internet was in its infancy. That meant it was hard to explain who I was and how I knew, but on the upside, I wasn't questioned about my motives in speaking to a minor. After a few minutes of pleading, they agreed to go, based on the fact they could check the name against address.

As her typing got more slurred, and she got more frightened and upset, she said the doorbell had rung. She typed one more word...bastard. She wasn't happy to be found.

A few days later I had an email from her sister to thank me. The letter had arrived, and the overdose was treated in time. The girl herself never spoke to me again. Nearly fifteen years on I remember her name, and the details of that night.

Since then I've intervened several times. I am glad that i've been able to do ASIST suicide intervention skills training, but this is not yet available to young people, or online. It should be.

When you are part of online support forums, you just do it. You care for others, and you use the tools you have to move the levers of friendship, usually people that you meet in real life too. It's not about the glory, it's just part of life on online forums. It often means embarrassment when for whatever reason someone isn;t as unwell as they say they are...but i'd rather have a police call out and a bit of red faced anger, and maybe lose a friend, than lose a person forever, as could have happened that night.

Intervening is such a difficult decision, because it can be very traumatic. The Samaritans will never intervene without being asked to do so and will hold on the line until a caller dies, if that is what they want. Any forum i've been involved with makes it clear that if you want that, go to Sams...it's too traumatic for other people in an online community to have that trauma abroad in the community with unknown outcome.

In the meantime...the Metanoia site is always the first link I send.

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