YouTube star Logan Paul shared a horrific video featuring an apparent suicide victim earlier this week, sparking a major dialogue about the proper way to bring awareness to mental health issues.
The video, which racked up more than 1 million views before it was removed, featured Paul, a tour guide and several others as they walked through Aokigahara, a woodsy location in Japan that has been dubbed the “Japanese Suicide Forest.” The footage showed the group as they found a person who died of an apparent suicide, zooming in on the body. (The person’s face was edited to be blurred out.) Paul can also be heard laughing on the tape.
People were outraged following the video, expressing their anger with Paul on Twitter over his callous attitude toward the victim and suicide. Paul has since apologized, saying that he “intended the video to raise awareness for suicide and suicide prevention.”
Paul’s video certainly missed the mark when it comes to productive, compassionate and responsible mental health awareness. Experts stress that videos like these do more of a disservice to the mental health community rather than help it.
Research shows that showing videos or divulging methods of suicide may have a contagion effect, leading to copycat acts in vulnerable individuals, according to Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE). Problematic content around mental health can also contribute to stigma, which can prevent people from seeking help, he added.
“It can create trauma for many and that can have lasting effects on people,” he told HuffPost.
If the goal truly is mental health awareness, there are other, more efficient methods anyone can do to help. Below are some expert-approved ways you can lend your voice or your time to the cause:
Share positive messages on social media and in the news.
Reidenberg recommends creating awareness through social media channels, which arguably have the widest reach. You can do this by openly discussing mental health, supporting others who do the same and sharing responsible, research-backed information about mental illness and treatment.
This rule should also apply to journalists and entertainers, said Victor Schwartz, medical director of the Jed Foundation, and organization dedicated to preventing suicide in teenagers and young adults.
“Media and artists sharing accurate information about mental health and suicide risk in ways that focus on availability and effectiveness of treatment are known to be helpful,” Schwartz said.
Volunteer for a mental health organization.
Some communities have local mental health groups where you can donate your time, money or energy as a way to support people living with mental health issues, according to Reidenberg. Or, find a way to get involved on a larger scale through national organizations like SAVE, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Crisis Text Line, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Jed Foundation.
Speak up if you’re concerned about someone’s mental state.
“Any person experiencing thoughts of suicide should take this seriously and seek professional support, as this is certainly a sign of significant distress and should not be ignored,” Schwartz said.
If you think someone you know might be in crisis, it’s vital that you express it so they may get the help they need. And this doesn’t just apply to in-person conversations: Here’s what to do if you see someone you know post a status about harming themselves on social media.
Watch your words.
There’s power in what you say. Using mental health terminology in a casual or blithe manner ― like saying you’re “so bipolar” for wanting to switch up your hair color, or calling someone a “nut job” for acting a little strange ― can further contribute to stigma, according to both experts. You can be an advocate by eliminating these colloquial phrases out of your vocabulary.
“There are some ways of showing or talking about these issues that might also feel disrespectful, mocking or that might add to prejudice,” Schwartz said. “Remember that we sometimes make fun of or mock things that make us anxious or uneasy.”
Educate yourself on suicide.
The more informed the world is on suicide, the more likely people will start making a difference when it comes to curbing it.
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States, and recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the rate of suicide increased by nearly 2 percent last year. In other words, the problem is only getting worse.
“While we can’t prevent every suicide, suicide is the most preventable death that there is,” Reidenberg said.
Talk openly about mental health treatment.
Bottom line: Professional support, whether that’s through therapy, medication or both, is the most effective way to manage a mental illness. Seeking help is hardly something to be shamed, Reidenberg said.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health and the sooner we can get someone to treatment, the better and then the less likely they will die by suicide,” he explained.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.