What to do if a Person Threatens Suicide on Facebook

Facing Suicide Threats on Social Media

I’m pretty connected on Facebook, Twitter and on social media in general. I have to be. It’s important for my career.

And as such I have almost 20,000 followers on various platforms. This is a whole lot of people to be exposed to on a daily basis. And due to my profession, I run into many people with mental illness on my Facebook, Twitter and other feeds. And sometimes the people on these feeds are in distress. Distressed to the point where they threaten suicide.

But what do you do if someone threatens suicide on Facebook, Twitter or otherwise?

Turning Your Back on Suicide Threats

What to do about Suicide Threats

Many people don’t take suicide threats seriously. For example, last Thursday a woman on my feed threatened suicide quite dramatically and, to the best of my knowledge, her thousand “friends” didn’t initially respond. I can’t say why but I do know that many people consider online suicide threats to be meaningless.

Or so they say.

I believe if they thought about it for a minute, they would realize that a woman with a knife and pills who says “she is going to die today” is pretty damn serious. I believe that people turn their back on suicide threats simply because they don’t want to be bothered. They don’t want to get involved in someone else’s life or death struggle.

OK, I get that. But I ask you, how could you possibly live with yourself if you ignored her plea and then she did end up dead after all? What kind of person does that make you, exactly?

What to Do About Facebook Suicide Threats

I would ask the people please, please do not ignore suicide threats on Facebook and elsewhere. Suicide threats should always be taken seriously. Half of all people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide and up to one-in-five successfully complete a suicide so please, these threats are not words to take lightly.

In the case of Facebook suicide threats:

  1. Reach out to the person and ask them if they are alright. Ask them if they are getting help.
  2. Give them the information on suicide hotline numbers.
  3. There is an optional third step here – report the suicide threat to Facebook.

If the person responds and says they are getting help or that they do not intend to attempt suicide, you have done your job. Always encourage they seek professional help and tell them they are not alone.

If the person doesn’t respond or responds saying that they will kill themselves:

  1. Ask them where they are.
  2. Tell them that you have to contact the authorities to get them help.
  3. Call a suicide hotline number or the police to report the suicide threat to the professionals.
  4. Give all the information you have to the professionals including any information the person has on their Facebook page about their phone number, address, current location or anything else that might help find the person.
  5. Tell the person that you have called for help and continue to encourage them to reach out to a professional.

Yes, Call the Authorities for Facebook Suicide Threats

Yes, I said you should call the professionals when a person makes a threat of suicide on Facebook. This is because:

  1. You don’t know how serious the person really is. You need to take them at their word as you have no reason not to.
  2. You are not a suicide counsellor – don’t try to be one. Let the professionals handle it as they know how to do it correctly and how to draw in other agencies as need be.
  3. You need to not get emotionally invested in another person’s life that you completely cannot control. Believe me. These situations can tear you up and your own mental health is important too.

Other Possible Actions to a Facebook Suicide Threat

A couple of other things you may want to consider – but only if you’ve taken the above steps and you feel comfortable doing it:

  1. Engage the suicidal person in conversation until the professionals get there.
  2. Contact family members or close friends of the person who made the suicide threat as they are likely far more capable of helping than you are.

Remember – All Suicide Threats are Real, Even on Facebook

Too many people needlessly die from mental illness and emotional distress. Don’t turn your back on a person whose life you could save with one phone call.

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About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

  1. I see this post is old, so I hope you answer. I recently reported a suicidal person to Facebook. As a result Facebook has temporarily locked him out of his account. Consequently, I had no communication with the Individual after I threatened to commit suicide. I became concerned that he might have followed through with the threat so I contacted his local police to do a welfare check on him. That’s when I found out that he was alive and well, but locked out of his account because of the report I made. Do you know of any reason for Facebook to do such a thing, or who I might be able to ask? Thanks in advance.

  2. Most people who talk about suicide could not do it, they are either scared or looking for attention. By using a social network to relay this message to their friends and the rest of the world, most of them want the attention or to cause drama.
    Remember Social media is the ideal place to get attention and cause drama.
    Granted if my “friend” has not came online for several days after the suicide threat I would alert the local authorities.
    Then again who believes everything they READ especially on a social network

  3. Please excuse any typos or errors in my last post, I am using voice text on a mobile device. For example, i meant to say “cruel” instead of “cool” & “babble” instead of “battle.” Mod has my permission to correct these errors if she wishes

  4. I just want to say that as someone who has been involuntarily committed before and who knows several others who have, calling the authorities is actually not a good answer. It’s actually very cool and stupid thing to do. Most psychiatric ward there poorly run and poorly funded with the staff that is overworked and poorly trained. Here in Louisiana, my boyfriend was beaten by a guard (without provocation) upon admission. People who are admitted to psychiatric wards are denied basic human dignity and rights. Everything they say is treated like a battle of a crazy person. They are stripped of their rights and treated worse than someone in jail or prison. Everyone I know, myself included, who’s been involuntarily committed has been forced to take various medications against their will, some of them will make you very ill or very tired. However you are not allowed to say that you don’t like the medication or doesn’t agree with you because then they will keep you longer. You cannot answer many of their questions honestly because they will keep you longer. It’s a big complicated game to try to figure out how to get out. Because you want to get out. Once you are in there you want nothing more than to go back to your life. But torturing somebody is not a valid means of saving their life. The ends do not justify the means. So if you are involuntarily committed, you may be unable to purchase a gun in the future. To some, this may seem like a good idea, but it’s really not because a lot of times a person goes through a bad time in their life but then it’s over. Also, one might need the gun for self defense or for hunting later on and to automatically stripped them of this right because they were committed is just plain wrong. Also, having been involuntarily committed an interfere with the person obtaining certain jobs or medications they may need in the future. These facilities never actually take the time to evaluate whether or not you were truly mentally LO whether or not you truly belong there. There is an assumption that if you are there you surely must be crazy or you wouldn’t be there. They prevent you from sleeping. They lock you out of your room. If you try to sleep they use it as an excuse to keep you longer. They Feed you disgusting horrible food, like Jell-O and goulash and if you don’t eat it, they will punish you by keeping you longer. They force you to participate in childish activities that insult your intelligence. When I was in there they asked me to draw a picture of how I felt. Because I was tired since my idiotic roommate wouldn’t shut up all night and then in the morning I was locked out of my room, Drew myself asleep in a bed, complete with zzz’s over my head (to make it clear that the figure in the bed was sleeping) because I wanted nothing more than to get the good nights sleep I have been Callously denied (you can go to the desk and ask for something to help you sleep but it’s just a placebo that they give you) of course they completely ignored the zzzz’s I had drawn, which are typically a universally recognized Indicator that a figure is asleep and exclaimed, “she drew herself dead! She is suicidal!” They wouldn’t even give me a chance to explain. I don’t remember much of what happened after that particular incident, but I know I got out before the required 72 hours was up, because I had so many friends and family members visiting me that it was determined I had a adequate support network and it was safe to let me go. And that’s what I’m trying to illustrate here. People don’t need to be locked up like an animal and have a permanent mark on their record as if they committed a crime. Being so unhappy that you wish to kill yourself is not a crime! I am really weary of this American Ethos that having anything except a gung ho positive attitude is a serious moral failing. People get upset and miserable for all kinds of reasons, most of them valid, or at least valid from that person’s point of view. I think people need to stop being lazy and unwilling to deal with their friends and loved ones human to human and stop shipping them off to the authorities like a rabid dog. When I was committed, I had been threatening suicide because I wanted people to show love and concern for me. I did not want to be handcuffed and taken away a police car. Crying out for love and support should not get you handcuffed, drug tortured raped or any combination of such. I had been committed that time because I had left a cheerful message on my mother’s answering machine and she called the authorities, but by the time the authorities came, some of my neighbors were already with me at my apartment comforting me and helping me. I have already been “saved” bye good caring people. But the authority still felt it necessary to handcuff me drive me away drive me torture me deprive me of sleep and belittle me and strip me of my civil rights and charge me money for it! So please don’t get upset with me for going against the grain here, but as someone with extensive first-hand experience with the mental health system, I strongly urge all of you out there to please step back and realize that the authority figures as they always have been in human history are ill-equipped to deal with people who are suffering from psychological anguish and it is the wall and concern of friends and family that can heal these wounds, not coldhearted, overworked doctors and nurses and other staff members who are jaded and simply going off the rubric and not actively engaging with each patient in a way that is conducive to human dignity. Find the compassion and empathy within yourself to help people around you who are suffering, because if they went through what I went through, next time they might not call for help. They will just be gone

  5. I live on fb, Im disabled an suffer from MDD major depressive disorder, on the net there are many many articles on what not to say to a depressed person… in some of the comments an articles ive read here i see alot of these sentences an words that they said shouldnt be said. Could trigger a relapse for some an have triggered me backwards. Cant just ” get over it” ” things will be better” ” lots to live for” things like this do set off triggers that makes bad thoughts more uncontrollable. I know copin skills an all that. Do you have any articles on how to control the triggers when someone talks to you like your the fool makin you feel even worse when u cant control the thoughts? Times can get so dark then someone tries to comfort you n say all those things u shouldnt say you cant see past the tunnel visions. Why do people get so mean an hateful never wanna talk to you again when a person is suicidal? When your so far down no one elses feelings matter but hurts really bad when people treat you like ur a disease.. sometimes all we want is someone to talk to. Make the mental n physical pain to go away just by talking bout something fun. Make the tears stop for awhile. Im not suicidal today. Been reading your page tonight. Some has helped some has made me cry. I will continue to come back an read

  6. Hi, Just by coincidence my daughter(lives in Seattle, WA) today(12+ hours ago) posted a suicide announcement on Facebook. My Ex-wife called me about it and after we discussed it she call the police in Seattle to attempt to report and help.

    The result of the call was the police visited her and told her we had called about the posting and were told that my ex (her Mother and I) don’t have the right to call the police about it, she only did it to get some respect and had absolutely no intention of harming her self…..

    Did I mention our daughter had been treated from age 5 for a wide variety of mental issues such as ADHD, Bi-Polar, and Asbergerns along with COB, ADD etc.

    I looked at your site and passed it on to my Ex-wife in the hope it help us deal with this the latest ripple in our daughters behavior, Thank you

  7. i actually tried to report a few suicide posts

    facebook takes a obvious suicide post and says is not a suicide post and actually tried calling a crisis line and ask how to report a suicide post when facebook chooses to ignore it but this crisis line people only keeps coming back and trying to tell me i was thinking about suicide — ok how about helping a person but their constant trying to script me to claim a complete strangers post as mine certainly made homicide thoughts start happening — more like darwin needs help when stupid people are in charge of places supposed to call to get other people help

    places do not work in the ideal little way people say they do and that is a reality in this world

    there is the propaganda they put out with help of a ad agency and then there is the reality when you actually call

  8. What if you don’t know this person in real life? What can you do about that? Also, what if you don’t know their address? My friend had an issue with her online ex boyfriend and we don’t know how to deal with that.

  9. You want to find out if they are haveing that “call your doctor if ” reaction to psychiatric drugs.

    Antidepressants may increase suicidal thoughts or behaviors in some children, teenagers, and young adults, especially within the first few months of treatment or when the dose is changed. Patients on antidepressants and their families or caregivers should watch for new or worsening depression symptoms, unusual changes in behavior, or thoughts of suicide. Such symptoms should be reported to the patient’s healthcare provider right away, especially if they are severe or occur suddenly.

    When this happened to me of course it was “blame the victim” at the psych part of the hospital and they tryed to coerce more psychiatric medication. The suicidal side effects of psychiatric drugs were not as well known a few years ago.

  10. It is so excellent to see an article like this posted! I volunteered long-term on a crisis line and know that every threat/hint at suicide should be taken seriously. Often, when people are thinking about suicide, they reach out in the form of hinting at suicide or stating that they plan on it. What the person is hoping for is that someone will reach back. Thank you so much for giving practical advise of how to do exactly that–reach back and help someone stay safe!

  11. I posted a very angry post on Facebook about six months ago. I usually reread my posts or emails to edit them or check spelling, or just to see if what I’m saying is what I want to say.
    I had upped the dose on a med the night before per my doctors instructions. I’m not sure what I said, I know it was seething with anger and I posted it without thought.
    I had a suicide attempt a few years ago. Within five minutes of posting that my phone started ringing and everyone was totally freaked out. I spoke to people that I had not spoken to in over 40 years. It’s weird, I was fine, not angry, not depressed. But something went wrong on that post. A friend I’ve known my whole life called the cops for a welfare check. Before I went to the door I knew who it was. I had to do a bit of tap dancing to convince her that I was OK.
    I talked to my friend and he said you’re mad at me aren’t you. I said the exact opposite, you did exactly what people are supposed to do and I appreciate it because how could you know. That was a long day and a valuable lesson. I don’t think that I mentioned suicide, it was just so out of character for me. It’s good to have friends.

  12. Hi fellow readers. I have a disease and it is called Bipolar, it does not define who I am it is simply something I deal with on a daily basis.
    Articles like the one above are so full of information and a great way to inform people that they are not helpless when someone makes a threat but gives tools on a way to reach out to them.
    My most hated senctence is…suicide is an easy way out, it is so selfish to leave everyone else to pick up the pieces. I have encountered many people who think this and I set them straight. Funny thing is they have not experienced any mental illness, they just judge. I also have had people who have had an experience later on say you were right you don’t know what someone is thinking until you are in their shoes. The old cliche walk two miles in my shoes before you come to conclusions.
    I have found that people don’t make idle threats, whether they go through with it or not they are asking for help in a way they know how.
    Feel blessed that someone trusts you enough that they would open up to you. That takes courage on their part. You take the courage to take these threats seriously and dial 911 if you are able.

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  16. Natasha, thank you for your important article. It does seem non-professionals have one of two reactions in the face of a suicide threat: 1) ignore, 2) play therapist. A balanced approach would be to ask the person if they are serious, or they are just feeling overwhelmed/sad. Even though I am a therapist, that is the first question I always ask. If there is any doubt after that question, call the authorities! Law enforcement will do a well-person check in most (if not all places), encourage the person to get help. Like doing CPR, get help, then reach out to help. You can call and talk to the person, but only after you have called law enforcement.

    As an aside, Natasha, someone I know made a threat on FB. I tried contacting her via FB but was unable to reach her. I did not know her location nor phone number so I could not call law enforcement (where would I send them?). I did use the FB reporting system. No one responded to either her nor me. I am not saying don’t use FB’s system, just don’t rely on it. It is still a fairly new system and seems to have kinks to be worked out yet. I do admire FB for their willingness to do this.

    Barbara A. Long LISW-S

    • Hi Barb,

      That is really my concern about the Facebook system. I mean, there is no accountability there and they have limited options as to what they can do too. And I really fear people using the system and then nothing being done.

      So yes, I consider that an optional and supplementary step only. Sometimes it’s the best you can do, but hopefully there are better means of reaching out to someone.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • i reported a suicide post on face book and they said it was not suicide so refused to even give help

        do not know this person personally so like another poster – where would i even call as in is the person in united states or where in the world would people go

        the post actually said they want to commit suicide directly and face book thinks this is nothing

        face book could do a ip trace if they wanted to since they have their servers to show logs of ip addresses people post from so they could help more than i can but they simply refuse to take sdirect suicide posts seriously and deny it is suicide post

        here is the post i reported

        https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=591181127563566&id=210713025610380

  17. Excellent, practical advice; thank you. One point I think was wrong, and it rubbed me the wrong way. You said most people don’t bother, because they don’t want to, or don’t care. That is not true. Most people don’t know what to do, which is why this article is helpful. Most people, too, don’t know if the threat is legit, or in this era of seeking attention, the friends don’t know how to react.
    I felt that part of your article condesending, but the practical tips helpful.

    • Hi Jodi,

      Thank-you for the comment.

      I’m sorry if you found part of the piece condescending, that’s not my intent. I guess I have just seen too many people ignore others’ pleas and not only ignore them, but egg on behaviors like suicide. I’m so sickened by such behavior that there is a bit of an edge when I talk about it, but yes, you’re right, of course, people have many reasons for not reaching out, and I do understand that.

      Hopefully this information will help people take steps to help others.

      – Natasha

      • Thank you so much for that follow up, Natasha, I appreciate your response…and never thought about the ignorant sobs that would egg people on, so I see where your angle is coming from now. Again, thank you for responding, I didn’t expect that, lol.

        • Hi Jodi,

          I try to take the time to answer many of the commenters here so people know I’m listening. I think it’s part of my responsibility as a writer to take my reader’s thoughts into consideration – plus, my readers often give me great writing ideas. :)

          – Natasha Tracy

  18. In respect to what lives on after someone kills themself: The successful act of suicide leaves survivors in the family and person’s social network with so many unanswered questions. Aside from losing someone, each member is affected in a totally different way than if the death were because of illness or even murder. In these two respects there is at least some sort of disclosure. But with suicide, the ability to have a story to go with the death is taken by that person to the grave. And we each carry an assumption of what spurred the person to take his or her own life. It really is a different kind of emotional and cognitive burden to wrestle with.

    A few minutes of effort in reaching out to the person is much better than may turn out to be a never-ending legacy of “what if” kind of regret for not only you but the family members and friends.

    • Hi David,

      That’s a good point. People are often plagued by “what ifs” long after an event like a suicide takes place. And while I believe that plague is unwarranted that certainly doesn’t stop people from feeling that way.

      So yes, in one respect, helping out a suicidal person is completely selfish – it saves you from the pain that would have happened had that person of died. However you think of it though, it’s much easier to live with knowing you tried to help than knowing you turned your back.

      – Natasha

  19. What would you do if a suicide threat is not explicitly stated but the content may indeed allude to the fact that the person in question is actively contemplating going through with it? At the same time you don’t have a way to directly communicate with them yourself. This has happened to me several times and I’m still unsure whether I acted correctly. (Every time I contacted the website’s owner.)

    I read a lot of metal health related writing on the internet and suicidal ideation and the desire to die are frequently addressed, sometimes not in the form of abstract musings but very raw emotions. I find it personally difficult at times to separate between the need to express one’s actually feelings and that what’s being shared isn’t simply a deeply disturbing emotion but an actual intent.

    • Hi Emma,

      That’s a very real concern and it’s something we just can’t hope to get right all the time. I have spent many words on suicidal ideation with some of it being very real, but I’m still here to tell the tale.

      My feeling is, if the intent isn’t specific, there’s little use in the contacting the authorities unless you have other reasons to believe the person is serious. Many people _want_ to die but it’s few that turn that desire into action.

      If the intent isn’t clear, then I think the best thing to do is to talk to the person.

      I haven’t written about exactly what to say to a person who is suicidal, but I will. Until then, I think the best thing to keep in mind is to support the person in whatever way you can. If you don’t know the person and they are essentially anonymous on a web site, yes, you can contact that web site’s owner (not a bad idea) but you can also write a comment back stating that the person is not alone and that people do care. You can also include a link to suicide hotline numbers so that if the person decides to reach out, they know how. (http://natashatracy.com/get-mental-illness-help/ )

      In the end, we really only can help people that want that help. We can try our very best and be wrong. But providing distressed people with the tools that provide help seems like the right idea to me.

      – Natasha Tracy

  20. Suicide. People who have not been personally affected by suicide rarely recognize it for what it actually is, the self-murder of one person which devastates the lives of everybody close to them. So when people who are considering suicide try to reach out to others in a final act of desperation, it is often ignored because people simply don’t care,don’t know what to say or simply don’t know what to do… but it does get the attention of those of us who have been personally affected by suicide and spend a good portion of our lives campaigning to increase suicide awareness and trying to help those affected by suicide move forward with their lives. Much thanks for addressing this issue Natasha, I would be honored if you would allow me to reprint this post on my blog which frequently addresses issues related to suicide and suicide prevention. Love & Light.

    • Hi Todd,

      I’m sorry, but I can’t have people reproducing my work. You can quote part of the article but you must link to the rest. It’s not that I don’t want to help others, of course, but it messes with SEO and my copyright.

      – Natasha Tracy

  21. I think you’re being hard on the followers who ignored her threat. Most people who don’t deal with mental health issues on a daily basis have no real context in which to understand a suicide threat.

    You’ll hear things like ‘oh but you have so much to live for’ or ‘how could you do that to your family.’ They don’t understand the pain and anguish someone is going through when they reach that point.

    Maybe if there was more attention paid to mental health issues in the public sphere, things would be a bit different.

    • This is a very simple equation: someone might die-you call for help. When some says they need help you call 911 or yell for a doctor. You don’t analyze how many times they have done it or what the motivation is. Person may die: call for help. If you were in a life or death situation wouldn’t you want someone to call for help for you.

    • Hi David,

      I don’t think I’m being hard on them at all; I think I’m challenging them to be better humans and look at themselves in the mirror. I’m asking them to think through their behavior to the logical conclusion. If someone walked up to you and said, “I’m going to kill myself,” would you not do something to help them? Why is a remark on Facebook any different?

      And I know that people don’t know what to do about suicide threats, that’s why I wrote the article, but I do believe that people should try _something_. Even a trite remark like, “you have so much to live for” might be fairly meaningless but at least it shows the person cares.

      And, you know, all you have to do is Google “Facebook Suicide Threat” to get information on how to report a suicide threat on Facebook. (See here: http://natashatracy.com/mental-illness-issues/suicide/suicide-resources-facebook/ ) and people don’t even do that!

      Yes, if people were more aware things would likely get better, I agree. But I don’t think there’s any harm in taking people to task now either.

      – Natasha Tracy

  22. Sadly there are those that tend to play on people’s heart strings by crying wolf. To me it doesn’t matter if that is the case or not. I know others get almost burned out trying to figure out whether they are being honest about it or something else. I was in a group where a member committed suicide only to reappear later on. I think it is an excellent topic and one that people deal with without knowing what to do.

    • Hi Debra,

      I appreciate that some people cry wolf, but like you said, I just don’t really care. When it’s life or death involved, I’d rather be safe and offer help and have them laugh then be wrong and lose someone. You only get one shot to get it right.

      – Natasha Tracy

  23. This is a really good issue to be covered Natasha. I also come across people in this situation regularly because I run MH support groups on Facebook. I notice you haven’t mentioned the option that Facebook provide to report the person to Facebook and then Facebook contact emergency services. This has advantages if you’re not in the same location as the person (which the situation I end up in usually). Unfortunately the option is n’t without it’s problems though and it would be great if Facebook could tidy up this option. At the moment if I report someone (via the person’s timeline there is an option to report them for suicidal gestures (I think that’s the word they use from memory). Facebook then email me back to say the looking into the situation but I never get told whether they have done anything. My understanding is that if they (I have no idea how they decide!) decide to act then they will contact emergency services in the person’s area and I think they also email the person with lifeline phone numbers. It’s a far from perfect system but it is there. I tend not to rely on FB to actually do anything, but I do tell the person I’ve done it and keep working with them to contact help themselves.

    • Hi Cate,

      Yes, someone just mentioned this feature to me. I’m going to do a little part II post tomorrow that talks about this feature. I, personally, would have a hard time trusting Facebook to do anything, but it is something, nonetheless.

      – Natasha Tracy

      • Oh agree totally. I have used it twice. From what I gather FB did act on one case but then they never feedback so it’s a bit of a mystery gamble. Look forward to part 2. Cate

  24. The other night there was someone who reached out and I didn’t really know what to do or say. This article is very helpful. Thank you Natasha.

    • Hi Patricia,

      It is really hard to know what to say and I don’t blame people for not knowing. Like I said, people are not suicide counsellors. I think it’s just important that you show _some_ support. Even just telling the person they’re not alone can be helpful.

      – Natasha Tracy