15 tips for people in distress online

by Quiip Team September 06, 2018

As a brand or organisation you might think a suicidal or distressed post won’t appear on your facebook page or array of social channels.

But when it’s 10pm and a user sends a distressing snapchat to your brand account, what do you do?

These types of posts will catch you off guard if you’re not prepared. It can be distressing for you as social media manager or brand manager and you’re likely to panic. Billions of people use social media daily, and sadly, it’s very likely you’ll come across distressing content in your forays online, no matter your intent or context.

As community managers we are often ‘first responders’ and in a unique position to help people online. It’s important you’re prepared and have a plan of steps you’re empowered to take.

We’re proud to have worked with numerous mental health and high-risk communities over the years. Here’s a few simple tips we’ve developed for helping people online who are in distress. Follow them and you’ll be helping build a safer, more ethical internet – something we’re all responsible for.

Read more: 8 Mental Health Communities

If you are running a community which is more likely to attract people feeling vulnerable or at risk, you should have a robust risk management governance framework.

15 top tips for managing people in distress online

  1. Take all posts seriously, even if you suspect they are not.
  2. Suicide – look for intent, and means.
  3. Separate the issue from the “risk”.
  4. This might be the only “flag”. People have chosen to use your platform/space to talk, respect that.
  5. Acknowledge the strength it takes to speak out/ask for help.
  6. Be non-judgmental.
  7. Acknowledge [to yourself] you are not the appropriate person to help – you are the first responder.
  8. Refer to relevant professional helpline or online chat services. (Mention if it is free, anonymous etc. Mention that kidshelpline services up to 5-25 year-old.)
  9. “Listen” by validating the person’s situation/emotions.
  10. Don’t be afraid to say the wrong thing.
  11. Show empathy. Be in the “dark” with them, don’t try to cheer up quickly.
  12. Reassure them they are not alone and there is help out there.
  13. Offer actionable help.
  14. Encourage their help seeking journey but assert it is their responsibility to access help.
  15. Ask a question to invite further dialogue (where appropriate).

Have a list of professional helplines on hand, whether a good ol’ fashioned sheet on the wall or in your phone. If you’re working solo (the only online community manager in your organisation) talk to a decision maker about whether you have sufficient support to manage these issues, and work with them build up your resources. If they’re not cooperative, reach out to the Australian Community Managers peak body who may be able to assist you with information and support.

There are also many fantastic online communities to support people experiencing distress or mental health issues of various and complex kinds, including beyond blue, SANE and reachout.com.au

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