Why we say “Don’t call the Cops”

CN: Discussion of Suicidal ideation, death, mental health, mental illness, police violence, well-intentioned NT (neurotypical) fuckery.











This has been rolling around in my head all day. 

A string of conversation that I see online on a regular basis is posts, that often turn into arguments,  about not calling the cops on people who are discussing suicide and death on social media. This is especially true on Facebook. 

I didn’t actually get to sit down and write this when I first started it. That’s ok though because it means I have had time to be in a better headspace.

I will start by saying this: Suicidal ideations, and being suicidal, are not the same thing. They can be connected, but they are separate things. Talking online about suicidal ideation is often the opposite of being suicidal. As a friend put it, it is more like letting off steam in a pressure cooker.

There are people in your life that, due to trauma or just having a messed up brain, think about death at least a few times a day. Sometimes they think about it several times a day. For some, it is a source of stress. For others, it is just something that is there, at the edge of their mind.

It is very much a symptom of PTSD and other disorders, but there is not always anything we can do about it. Except talk.

Sometimes, a lot of times, for a lot of people, talking about it, even vaguely, is an important part of keeping suicidal ideations, and being actively suicidal, as separate things. Talking about the screwed up things going through our heads can help us to keep them that way, in our heads. It can help to keep them from moving from the realm of everpresent thoughts to the realm of plans.

Once it gets to the realm of plans, it’s time to seek help. For some people seeking help isn’t a viable option.

So, with that morbid groundwork out of the way: If you see a friend talking about suicidal thoughts on social media, DON’T CALL THE COPS.

I hear about it all the time. Some well-intentioned individual (benefit of the doubt here) called the cops or reported the post to Facebook.

Don’t be that person. It’s likely to do more harm than good.

If you think that your friend is in a bad spot, reach out to them. Talk to them. Ask them if they are ok. If you are not personally emotionally strong enough to do so, get someone else to. Either it will turn out that they are just fine, and just needed a place to vent, or they will be open to seeking help.

If you call the cops though, they have a good chance of ending up dead.

Police, in the vast majority of cases, are not trained in dealing with mental health crises. Police these days consistently prove that they are crap at de-escalation. It is also not unheard of for police to arrive on scene and end up shooting the suicidal individual (who might not have actually even been suicidal before the police arrived).

But, let’s say it does end well. Let’s say that the police get there and check up on your friend and no one gets shot. What now?

They may or may not know who called, but they are unlikely to speak out on social media again any time soon. The ideations don’t magically go away. They just don’t have the outlet that used to be there for them. You proved to them that it was unsafe to talk about their mental health in that environment.

Also, and this should be obvious with what I posted above, but, don’t report the post to Facebook either.

If you report it to Facebook, one of four things is going to happen. 

1.  Facebook is going to ignore the report.

2.  Facebook is going to call the cops. (see everything above)

3.  Facebook is going to send them a concerned message from a bot, letting them know that one of their friends ratted them out and will do so again given the opportunity (again, see above), and offer them a few resources that you yourself could have messaged them directly with.

4.  Facebook may ban them for anywhere from 24 hours to permanently, for violating the terms of service.

Basically, reporting them to Facebook is only useful if you are trying to isolate your “friend” from whatever support network they have in place.

If you are going to help, try to help directly. If you are going to contact someone, contact someone who can actually help. Either someone who is trained to deal with such things or someone who your friend trusts and lives close to. But, try to talk to them first. Find out from them where they are and what their headspace is like.

There is a good chance that if they are talking about such things on Facebook, but not discussing plans, that they are just talking. Getting the stuff out of their head and into the ether, so that it doesn’t eat them.

We all have our demons, and most of us need our friends to help fight them. Don’t be the one that feeds us to them.