Dr. April Foreman

Social Media’s Potential for Suicide Prevention

Doc ForemanThe future is now. Sophisticated technology has made things possible that mental health is not ready to tackle. And maybe, in the case of suicide, that’s a good thing.

It is already possible, “today” to monitor social media for messages from people sharing their suicidal thoughts and feelings; to geo-locate those individuals, and then to send rescue to their door, within only minutes of their first suicidal message. IT professionals know this. It’s the mental health community that is just figuring this out. IT professionals are already developing this technology. When they “throw the switch” and begin to use it, mental health needs to be ready to respond effectively.

This is an interesting development for several reasons. First, most mental health professionals avoid even passing familiarity with the use of social media, let alone understanding the culture and nuances of interacting on various mainstream platforms, such as Twitter or Tumblr. Many in my field aren’t familiar with research that suggests that suicidal people may be more honest about their risk on social media (some research suggests people report a suicide at higher rates on social media than in real life).

Right now there is a “street nurse” in Toronto that finds people on Twitter who are suicidal and gets them local resources in real time (@RealTimeCrsisis). But for many in the mental health industry, the thought of doing this is anxiety provoking, and overwhelming. It is our community’s anxiety that is getting in the way of making a meaningful contribution at the intersection of mental health and social media.

Second, the IT industry has no “IRB” or mental health review process, and it’s not going to. People who can develop a code or technology will do it, whether they have thought through the mental health implications of it or not. It is up to the mental health community to become familiar with social media and IT and to initiate relationships with the IT community. This is the only way that we can increase the chance of technology and social media being used thoughtfully and effectively in mental health-related matters.

Can you imagine an IT developer “throwing the switch” on a program that quickly identifies and geolocates suicidal people via social media posts, only to find people in need of help with no idea how to go about helping them? While our mental health community is still debating the utility and security of encrypted email with patients (we’ve had that capability for years, patients want it, and yet few mental health providers use it), IT develops are rapidly expanding the capabilities and possibilities for communication with people who are suicidal. It is past time for our mental health community to begin to engage with IT and social media developers in meaningful ways about public health and safety.

Finally, this is interesting because IT and social media developers now have the tools to initiate social science experiments on a scale that was unimaginable only a few years ago, and they are already doing it. Facebook developers have demonstrated the ability to manipulate your mood. They performed an experiment on over 700,000 users with a speed and scale that is unimaginable to most social science and mental health researchers today.

Quite honestly, our mental health community isn’t sure how to react to this. Should we be impressed? Nervous? Indignant that we weren’t consulted and our safety review methods not used? Ashamed we didn’t anticipate this and prepare? Intrigued at what might be possible, and how to use that for the greatest good?

In the end, I think the only useful reaction is to replace fear with curiosity. Anxiety and avoidance is no substitute for thoughtful caution and curiosity. If our mental health community stands by our tradition of advocacy and compassion, then we have a duty to acknowledge and embrace the possibilities of social media for preventing suicide and improving mental health. Because if we don’t do it, then someone else who doesn’t understand mental health will.

When it comes to suicide prevention and mental health, technology is moving too fast for our field to wait until we are comfortable enough with social media to innovate. Instead, we must innovate until we are comfortable.

Doc Foreman: Suicide Education and Twitter

Get Social Health talks to Dr. April C. Foreman (or @DocForeman to her healthcare social media crew). She is a Licensed Psychologist serving Veterans in Louisiana as a Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. Prior to that she worked as the only Licensed Psychologist providing care in the four of the sickest and poorest counties of rural Kansas. Dr. Foreman received her Ph.D. from Texas Tech University in 2005.

social media for healthcareDocForeman’s mission in life is to relieve pain, one person, one problem, one minute at a time if she has to. She is known for her practical experience using innovations in emerging technology to solve problems for patients with severe emotional pain.

Our conversation, while about a very serious subject was not without humor, an essential element in dealing with people with suicidal thoughts. ”

You can find DocForeman on Facebook (April Foreman), and on Twitter, where she moderates a weekly Twitter Chat on Suicide Prevention and Social Media (#SPSM). SPSM chat is a project designed to build and spread expertise in the intersection of social media and suicide prevention. A weekly guest expert or targeted discussion topic is featured each week, and targeted at a diverse and multidisciplinary group of stake holders in this field. Each week’s chat is curated, creating a centralized and searchable body of expertise and thought leadership. You can find it here.

Visit our resources page for more valuable (and free!) resources on social media and digital health:

Social Media Tip:

From Dana Harris with REX/UNC Healthcare: “Talk to people” -engage on a personal level.

The Get Social Health Podcast Launch! Episode 1

Janet KennedyThank you for checking out the Get Social Health Podcast. On this first episode I would like to share with you our mission for Get Social Health, what plans are in the works for the podcast, give you a little background on why I think this podcast is needed and also a preview of some of our future guests.

I became an early adopter of social media and am now something of an evangelist for what social media can do to connect people around the world or in your own backyard by discovering like interests, needs, passions and cultures.

In 2013 I was approached by EHR 2.0, a company that does HIPAA compliance and data security for medical practices and hospitals, and asked to develop a series of social media webinars for healthcare.

The sad fact is, less than 70% of registered hospitals in the US are actively engaged in social media. The reasons are many – Time, Resources, lack of understanding of the power of social media and, probably the biggest reason, concern that a privacy law of HIPAA violation may occur.  Through teaching webinars and workshops it was clear that social media in healthcare required a slightly specialized set of skills, knowledge and tools not widely understood and available in the general marketplace.

Podcast Goal: 

My goal for this podcast is to interview the marketing, communications, PR and other team members doing the everyday work in healthcare social media. You’ll hear from physicians, nurses, e-patients, advocates, nonprofits, hospital marketers, writers, vendors and other professionals doing the daily work of engaging, educating, informing and building community.

I hope after listening to this podcast you’ll say one of two things. Either “That’s a great idea. I think I can use that in my job.” Or, alternately “I didn’t know that and I’d like to learn more.” You may think a lot of other things as well but if this podcast can educate, inform or inspire it will be 30 minutes well spent.

Podcast Format:

Speaking of time, let me explain what my plans are for the Get Social Health show format.  This will be a weekly interview show. My guests may be unknown to you but their experiences, ideas and even failures should be a great source of information for you. The interviews will last from 25 to 30 minutes. We’ll talk about their jobs, projects and passions always striving to give you practical suggestions, real life examples and suggestions usable immediately in your work. We will also discuss how privacy and HIPAA compliance has impacted their work.

At the end of the podcast we’ll take a moment for a “social media tip” from another professional. These 60 second ideas have been gathered at conferences, conventions, former or future podcast guests and via the Get Social Health website. You are welcome to join the conversation and send me a social media tip. Just go to the Get Social Health website and look for the “Send Voicemail” tag on the right side of the website.

Each podcast will be posted on iTunes and Stitcher as well as the Get Social Health website, so listen where it is most convenient for you. If you have a recommendation for a guest, I would love to hear it so send an email to [email protected] or leave a comment or voice message at the website.

Looking ahead, here are a few of the future guests scheduled for Get Social Health.

  • My first guest is Dr. Holly Peek, a psychiatrist at Tulane Medical Center and newspaper and television medical contributor. She travels under the Twitter handle @PsychGumbo.
  • Andre Blackman, Digital consultant for healthcare, a Mayo clinic social media committee member and advocate of the #Sustain or Die manifesto.
  •  Ophthalmologist Dr. Isaac Porter will visit Get Social Health to tell us about his video blogging.
  • Alexandra Tursi Social Media Strategist for the Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, Vermont will be joining me to talk about how she uses Pinterest for her hospital system.
  • Dr. April Forman, who is the Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the SE Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs will share her unique outlook and the use of social media for the VA in her area.
  • Jason Papagan, Director of Digital Marketing for REX Healthcare in Raleigh, NC and System Director for Digital Strategy for UNC Healthcare. They have been making some “Top Social Media Hospitals” lists lately and we’ll be discussing how that achieved that status.

These are just a few of the guests lined up so I hope you are looking forward to hearing them as much as I am to interviewing them.

Thanks for downloading this first mini-episode and I look forward to sharing great healthcare social media content with you in future episodes.