Mumbai’s Arjun Bharadwaj, 24, too needed an audience, it seems. This April, the depressed youth checked into a hotel and posted a live tutorial on suicide. Then, he took a swig of his drink, puffed a cigarette and said, “see you on the other side”, before jumping off from the 19th floor.
In April, a 32-year-old man from Sonepat hanged himself and live-streamed the episode on Facebook.
Evidently, a generation hooked to social media every waking minute is unable to let go even in death. David D Luxton, co-author of a 2012 US study, Social Media and Suicide: A Public Health Perspective, says one reason for this public display of the final moments could be a way to “get back” at those who they feel have bullied or caused them hurt in some way . “If one’s intent is to communicate the intensity of their feelings to others, doing so publicly online may seem to them to have the greatest impact,” he says.
It also encourages what Luxton calls the “social media contagion”. Social media platforms such as chat rooms and discussion forums may pose a risk for vulnerable groups by influencing decisions, such as to die by suicide. It was earlier restricted to traditional media, he says, “but now contagion can be spread by anyone who communicates on the internet, such as through Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, blogs or their own websites”.
Aasra, a Mumbai-based helpline for mental health that provides support to Facebook on suicide alerts, has seen a sharp increase in the number of calls a day from 4-5 to 50 in the past six months.
A primary concern with suicide or self-harm videos is that they may normalize and encourage self-injurious behaviour or cause victims to lose inhibition towards such actions, says the 2012 American study. In a search on the keywords “self-injury” and “self harm”, the study found that of the 50 most viewed videos, 64% had visual representations (such as photographs) of self harm, specifically cutting. A textbook case of such behaviour was on display last week when a Mumbai teen jumped to his death, allegedly in response to the Blue Whale challenge.The last photo he posted on Instagram was on a terrace parapet with a caption saying, ‘Soon the only thing you would be left with is a picture of me’.
Posting of suicide notes on Facebook is a reflection of the growing dependence on social media for validation and acknowledgement, say psychiatrists. For some, it’s their way of communicating their last message with the world. A message that could be lost, or destroyed by family members or the police if it was on pen and paper. But audio messages or posts on a facebook wall is a way to directly reach out to people without any interference.
Something that AIIMS anaesthetist Priya Vedi was married for five years to a man reported to be homosexual managed to do. Unable to continue the pretence of a happy married life, she posted a heart-rending note on her FB account before killing herself. The letter described her attempts to find happiness despite the trying circumstances and accused her husband of deceiving her.
Towards the end she addressed a larger audience: “If someone in our society is like him, please don’t marry a girl to save yourself, you people by doing so not playing with someone’s emotions also with a girl and her family’s life (sic).” Aasra director Johnson Thomas says suicide notes or announcements of self harm on social media are a cry for help from those who may not be getting the kind of attention they are looking for. “Conservative family structures do not allow people to express themselves, and force them to take desperate measures sometimes,” he says.
A Facebook spokesperson said the social network was working to ensure the safety of its users. In recent months, Facebook and Instagram have updated tools so that terms or searches based on keywords lead the user to resources that may help them. “We have zero tolerance for content that encourages others to harm themselves or commit suicide on Instagram. We are taking steps to remove content that violates our policies,” the spokesperson said.