There must be more to caring than copy…paste…share

At least, I hope so…

Now and then on Facebook I see a certain post. It’s about suicide awareness, and usually invites others to copy, paste and share. Sometimes it includes a dare, something like ‘Most people won’t share, but I know who will’. The post usually has multi-coloured hearts and a sort of story about how ‘I am always available if you need to talk…’

Every time this post comes up on my feed, it gets me thinking. And here I am going to share my thoughts, based on my feelings and experiences.

The contents of this article are a reflection of the author’s feelings and opinions. In the case of a mental health emergency, seek immediate assistance from qualified emergency service providers.

I think that if I was feeling so desperate and helpless, and probably in emotional turmoil without clear thinking, I doubt that I would try and remember who shared that post on Facebook and then call them. As I write this now, in a calm mind state, I am not sure that I remember who has posted this.

How would it work? Keep a list on the fridge titled ‘People who shared on Facebook that they are available to talk, with a suicide awareness hashtag’?

How would the call go? ‘Hey buddy, I don’t want to live but I saw on Facebook one day that you shared a post about being available. So that’s why I’m calling.’

And to me it doesn’t make sense. Because if I felt like that and could manage to reach out, it would be to the people who I felt had cared enough to let me know in more personal ways than sharing a generic post on Facebook. I would reach out to the people who I felt would understand me, in whose company I felt good enough to know that I could share my truth and be vulnerable.

There’s a saying that resonates with me:

‘If they know you’re hurting and they don’t check in with you, are they even your people?’

I think we should all be more aware of the people we know, rather than sharing a generic post. We should not assume that the friendly, likeable person is surrounded by many friends and family. It is possible that they are actually alone and unsupported.

The other thing I often think about is how when there is news about someone who committed suicide, there is often surprise from people who knew them, even family. I notice how there are usually comments such as ‘They seemed so happy’; ‘I saw them last week, they didn’t say anything’; ‘They had so much going for them’. This applies to celebrities as well as ordinary people.

I try to remember that just because someone is smiling or sharing happy photos does not mean that they are happy all the time. I think that often people don’t want to admit that they need help because they fear that others will try to take over and fix things instead of just being there in a supportive role. They may fear being judged. Reluctance to admit that help is needed may cause them to isolate themselves. And sometimes the tough love approach, meant well, may instead alienate them for the same reason, or out of fear of being misunderstood and shamed.

I am not writing this to criticise anyone or ridicule the practice of sharing the generic post mentioned. I am just hoping that we don’t replace the valuable and irreplaceable human one-on-one connection with a sanitised and digital spray-and-pray approach. I personally don’t want a generic message to substitute the value of my personal presence and interest in someone. Because to me, it almost feels like a lazy version of caring, a half-hearted way of feeling that ‘I did my bit, I shared the post, I assume everyone is OK.’ And I’ve also noticed that sometimes the people who post this message, also post other comments and jokes which are not consistent with caring, but rather of shaming, judging or ridiculing. So no, I would not reach out and trust them in my crisis, just because of the shared generic post.

I think that the time taken to copy, paste and share could rather be spent mindfully doing a mental audit thinking about who we know that is quiet lately or that we know is vulnerable. Something could have changed since we last heard from them. I would rather send a quick text to one person, or make one phone call.  I think it means more to know that we are not invisible, and that someone has thought of us.

Just out of curiosity, I would be interested to know if anyone has had someone reach out to them as a result of the shared post.

‘Sharing is caring’ – so the saying goes, but in this case, in my opinion, it is not enough. It almost seems then that an automated bot could just take over. Maybe an app even which would invite people to click on a button if they saw the generic post. Then when they did, there would be random impersonal feel-better responses. Is this enough? Not for me.

The contents of this article are a reflection of the author’s feelings and opinions. In the case of a mental health emergency, seek immediate assistance from qualified emergency service providers.