When I started Tweeting, I anticipated dialogue with all manner of service-users, professionals and carers concerning incidents where the police had become involved in mental health issues of all kinds. I predicted that this engagement may be valuable, not just in terms of being able to explain police processes and law to people who wanted it, but in my continuing to understand from those who use the police service how we could do it better and to share knowledge and practice issues.
If I’m honest, what I did not predict was being contacted in relation to ‘LIVE’ suicide incidents by people on twitter who are concerned for others making specific or generalised threats of suicidal ideation on their timelines. In hindsight, that was quite naive of me. There have been five such examples in the nine months or so I have been on here that I’ve been brought into by concerned tweeters.
I’ll be honest – each one immediately fills me with a sense of dread: Twitter accounts are often anonymous, people are ‘looking at me’ (virtually) as the police officer to ‘do something’ and yet obviously, I’ve often got no more information than anyone else about where in the UK or the World the account owner may be.
One of the incidents a few months ago, involved someone in Australia, but more than that was not immediately clear and only only one of them has come in whilst I’ve been ‘at work’! Another came in when I was up to my eyes at the time with my son’s U7 rugby team playing a series of matches at a kids’ rugby tournament – I could do little more than give two tweets of general advice to the person who alerted me. Ironically, that person was then traced by the police to a location about 10 miles from where the kids were playing rugby.
Sometimes engagement of local services has come around as a result of me getting into a dialogue with the individual and eliciting enough information to make my own phone call to mental health or police services. More often, it involves advising those who have raised the alarm – who actually are linked to that person on Twitter and have a level of engagement already established with them – to offer help and support. In two cases, it involved a few hours of tweets or DMs to get the person to focus on something other than their suicidal thoughts and agree to disclose enough information to get the support to them.
This post attempts to briefly show the power of social media and online ‘communities’ in pointing out that in all five cases so far, it has been possible to establish sufficient information to contact appropriate health or police services to begin ‘safe and well’ processes. Local professionals could then decide what necessary further action to take, once they achieved contact with the individual.
It is now entirely obvious that such cases would come to my attention given the subject issue I tweet and blog about – social media is yet another mechanism by which people secure networks of all kinds, for a variety of different reasons. Why would crisis support in mental health crisis be excluded from the other kinds of help and support that social media offers to people may otherwise believe they are alone?
This is why when I heard about the Sunday Times writing an article about tweeting police officers (in my force area, actually – Solihull) wasting their time on Twitter, I wanted to push back with examples from my own experience. I don’t know whether those (para-)suicidal thoughts were expressions of serious intent, a cry for help or even (potentially) an attempt to gain attention or manipulate … in a sense it doesn’t matter one jot whether they were. They created a condition in which we would all expect to see public services acting to ensure that those at risk were identified, found and that their safety was ensured – all the other considerations of motive and intent are secondary.
Eventually, if not already, one of these incidents will lead to the identification of someone whose life is at serious risk from their own mental health problems and where a response initiated via Twitter or other social media leads to them being saved from an attempt on their life. We can then legitimately ask again whether some journalists still thinking policing and social media is a waste of time?
If it is, it’s a waste of my own time – this is not my job: it’s just something I do because it’s right.
The Mental Health Cop blog
– won the ConnectedCOPS ‘Top Cop’ Award for leveraging social media in policing.
– won the Digital Media Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind
– won a World of Mentalists #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs
– was highlighted by the Independent Commission on Policing & Mental Health
– was referenced in the UK Parliamentary debate on Policing & Mental Health
– was commended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament.