Suicide video on TikTok has mental health professionals worried

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 8:44 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - TikTok has exploded in popularity. But this week the company told CBS News it is scrambling to remove a video of a man’s apparent suicide.

The video first appeared on Facebook and was taken down the same day in late August.

This week, clips from the video started to surface on TikTok. You should be aware, the video could appear on your child’s feed without them looking for it.

WBTV spoke with two mental health professionals about suicide prevention on this National Suicide Prevention Week. The TikTok video is a concern because it can inadvertently end up being viewed by someone who is at risk.

Dr. Rodney Villanueva is a psychiatrist with Atrium Health.

“It is disturbing especially if the person watching this is feeling alone and feeling, “I’m so sad. I’m the only one thinking about killing myself. And on top of that, the person would be watching in isolation, that would be terrible. Especially if they were in a place they felt that things were hopeless,” he said via Zoom Wednesday.

Dr. Villanueva and Kate Penny with Zero Suicide Initiative, spoke today about the significant rise in suicides since the pandemic started. Anxiety about the virus is one stressor, then add to that social isolation.

“For some people, it’s really difficult to be away, physically away form people. Even though we are living in an age of virtual meetings and virtual appointments that for some people is just not enough. You have this physical and emotional isolation,” Dr. Villanueva said.

Kate Penny encourages you to start a conversation if you are concerned about someone you love.

“It is important to ask these questions and not to think that if you ask about suicidal thoughts that you’re putting the idea in their head. A lot of people are just looking for that opportunity to share what they’re going through. And when you ask them they will open up and share that,” Penny said of tough conversations.

As for your child and social media, Penny says things have changed since the pandemic. But supervision is still key.

“I think the thing we used to say was limit social media. but now that’s how our teens and preteens are reaching out to their friends. But being aware of what your kids are doing on their phones is extremely important. Take a look at that phone and what is going on,” she said.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help right now call the National Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

Atrium Behavioral Health is a great resource to find affordable mental health care where you live. Their number is 704-444-2400.

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