Panel Session: Social Media and Warning Signs
PANEL SESSION: Warning signs, social and new media
How to use social media to spot people at risk through their online postings, and how to support and refer people for help. The discussion will also examine the communication preferences for young people, and how they fit in with other help-seeking behaviours.
Peter Watson (Specialist Adolescent Health Physician)
Christopher Banks (Bipolar Bear blogger, Mental Health Foundation)
Kayte Godward (Sector Relationship Manager, Lifeline Aotearoa)
Kingi Biddle (Media Consultant, Broadcaster)
Taimi Allen (Like Minds, Like Mine Team Leader, Mind & Body)
Tammy Hohaia (Kia Piki Co-ordinator, Ruakura Hauora o Tainui, Manukau)
Peter Watson: My name is Peter Watson, I work in Counties Manukau, I work in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit called Whirinaki, and I’ve been working in Counties for a decade and a half.
Alongside that journey I’ve been involved with SPINZ. I was involved in the very genesis of it, and I’m still here to this day.
I guess some of the things that worry me, that we haven’t made as good a progress as we would have hoped. And in my clinical practice life I have seen... I’m involved with youth, primarily, and, you know, the rates as people have said, of deaths on the roads have plummeted dramatically from near around a thousand to now around three hundred, and we just haven’t seen those declines in the rates of suicide.
Yes, we have seen some, particularly in the rates of youth there have been some declines, but there’re still far too many obviously.
So it is timely, I think, to continue these conversations and to think creatively about what we can do differently. Which is why, I guess, I was so interested in this topic. This topic, to me, represents one of the new potential areas where we can do things differently.
Fifteen years or so when we started out, we didn’t have social media in the way we do today. I was certainly raised in a very different world, there were no computers, let alone microwaves and calculators, so things have changed dramatically.
The question I guess is how do we do it, how do we use it? And these are questions I guess where there may not be as much evidence as there has been in other areas, but today we’re fortunate to have a panel of experts who will talk about their interests, their experiences and their knowledge, and of course all of you.
So we’re going to start with the panel discussion and then we’re going to open the floor to questions and comments.
I suppose my interest is also very personal, perhaps as many other people’s is in this topic, in particularly around social media. In the last twenty-four hours I’ve had one of my children aged thirteen, in year nine at a local high school, on one instance be on his Facebook page, and me walking along and him not wanting me to see it as is common, and me saying ‘well that’s part of the deal about...’ you know, ‘...you using that’, and having a look and seeing this stuff on it which just makes me hold my head and go ‘no, no, no, this is... this is wrong’, to this morning when he says to me ‘dad, you know, our health teacher just yesterday was talking to us about resilience’ and I’m thinking ‘oh yeah, that’s sort of interesting, what did he teach you’, and he says ‘well he was telling this story about when he was a young man in London, and there was a chap on the platform there, and obviously things had been getting to him and he wasn’t very happy, and miserable, and he jumped off in front of a train’.
So, at that point, we had this amazing discussion about what that might have been about, what was this issue about resilience, and what was the teacher getting at, and we had a fantastic conversation. And I suppose for me, being of a generation where we didn’t have Facebook pages, I’m thinking I know which I’d prefer to have here, man, I’d think I’d prefer to go with the conversations with my boy rather than let him go on the Facebook and do the stuff that I can’t see.
I guess the reality is all that social media is here, it’s not going away, we’ve got to get with it and learn about how to use it in a positive way to promote mental health. So that’s our challenge. That’s my interests. I’m going to hand it on down the panel for people to introduce themselves, their interests, and then we’ll start the conversations.
Kingi Biddle: Kia ora koutou, my name is Kingi Biddle, I, to be perfectly honest, to be perfectly frank, even though my name isn’t Frank, I actually don’t work in the great mahi that you work.
The reason that I’m here is for the last twenty-three years or so I’ve been involved in a medium that might be able to help, and that’s the medium of broadcasting. And in the last twenty years, working in Maori radio. And one of the things I love about Maori radio, especially when it started, was that we were able to hear Maori stories, Maori language coming from a Maori perspective, no matter who... no matter where you lived, a kuia could hear her mokopuna on the radio, a kuia could hear her stories, a koroa could hear what’s going on with their land claims, and that was the beauty of Maori radio. And so that’s why I’m here.
Christopher Banks: Kia ora, everyone, I’m Chris Banks, and thanks very much Peter, it’s the first time I’ve ever been referred to as an expert in anything, which is great.
I came out as a gay man when I was a teenager, and I had a very different coming out earlier this year when I decided to tell the world that I had bipolar disorder. I started a blog called Bipolar Bear.
And when I was diagnosed it was, you know, I went through the dual things of it being daunting and it being a relief, I mean so much about my life made sense, but there were also all sorts of other questions, I was worried about am I going to end up in hospital, what are people going to think of me, all that kind of thing.
So I struggled with this for a couple of years, and I really only told close friends and family that... about my mental illness. Earlier this year I came out of quite a really low period of depression in January, and came out of it really wanting to do something. And I thought well given that I work in the field of mental health, and the other career I have is I’m a filmmaker in the entertainment industry which is tolerant of all sorts of weirdoes, it was kind of safe for me to do this, whereas perhaps someone working in a regular sort of office job might not be able to. So I thought ok, I’ll start this blog, I’ll start talking about my thoughts and feelings and what it’s been like for me.
What I didn’t expect was how quickly a community grew up around this blog, and just in a few short months around seven hundred and fifty people on a Facebook page, thousands of page views per month, and, you know, I expect that there’s been replies and the odd thing, but what’s really started happening is conversations – people coming on, opening up about their own lives, telling their own stories – and I think this is really where the power of social media is. And I think that it’s actually a very positive thing. I think at the most high-risk level there will be people who will express their suicidal thoughts online, and these might be people that might never have expressed these thoughts in any other way, so it’s actually a new opportunity, I think, rather than a threat, and it... I’ve seen this happen in the months that the blog and the Facebook page has been online, and this has also happened through the Nutters Club as well, both with people coming on the Facebook page, and even calling the radio show – it’s these opportunities that weren’t there before for people to talk.
I’d really like to mihi to Eliza Snelgar who said this morning ... I’ve been writing everything down ... ‘we’re not here to talk about suicide, we’re here to talk about life, light and self-determination’, because I think what we really need to look at, how we can use the internet and social media as a force for improving our mental health and wellbeing.
I wrote a blog post earlier this year about an initiative they were holding in America called the National Day of Unplugging, which was encouraging everyone to turn off their computers and phones and everything and start talking to people. I didn’t think it was a good idea, as you may be able to tell. For some people they find it very difficult to talk to others, and technology is the medium in which they use to reach out to other people, and I said at the time in a blog that I was writing that we have to stop blaming technology for the disconnection that exists within our society.
It is a huge tool for people with experience of mental illness who’ve experienced stigma and discrimination, to actually be able to reach out to other people in a way that they might not have been able to before, so that’s my passion and interest of being here today.
Taimi Allen: I’d like to press ‘like’ on Chris’ comment there, and reTweet it. My name is Taimi Allen and I’m the programme leader for Like Minds, Like Mine in Mind and Body Consultants here in Auckland. I also... well part of my job is to coordinate things like the ReThink grant, and their associated artistic events and projects that we rely heavily on social media to portray the right kind of Like Minds messages to try and reduce stigma and discrimination for people who have experienced mental distress.
I’m also a professional actor, and I use those networks really blatantly to work alongside some mainstream media, some scriptwriters, producers, directors and actors, to try and get mental illness portrayed a little bit more positively than it has been in the past. And sometimes we make great inroads with that, and sometimes we fail dismally, but...
In terms of my experience in mental health, I hold a QBE... who else holds a QBE...it’s qualified by experience... is I’ve been lucky, or unlucky enough to have survive eight different mental disorder diagnoses – they couldn’t fit me in the right box. I’ve had six really long-term admissions for up to six months to seven months in hospital at one time. I’ve had multiple attempts at suicide in my past, and like Sarah Gordon I was paddled back by the paramedics by one stage, and brought back with me a very, very fearful death experience, and it was that moment, I think, that I decided that I needed to make some better choices in my life.
So that’s my expertise in mental health. My expertise in social media is predominantly being a social media junkie. I am on every site, I have multiple profiles, both anonymous and public, on pretty much every site that exists, from video blogs, forums, networking, in fact I think I stalked a Google employee when Google Plus first came out to be one of the first people on that too.
I’m also an anonymous agony aunt for Yahoo Answers. And my moments of insomnia I use trying to talk to strangers through their thoughts of self-harm and suicide using my own experiences.
I’m involved in a feasibility study for new online peer support services, and I’ve been developing programmes in schools for teachers on the impact of perfectionism, impulsivity – which is what Stephanie was talking about – and the social media on the mental health of their students, and have developed a Facebook Safety for Educators guidelines.
I believe, like Chris mentioned, that social media is the most powerful suicide prevention tool that we have today. There are eight million people online each day that seek health information, twenty-three internet users search for mental health information alone – twenty-three percent. Thirty-five percent of all adults have social media profiles, and one in six people have thoughts of suicide. So one in six is a big amount to say that that’s not a normal part of life; it’s about talking through those moments and getting people through the moment.
And for better or for worse, social media is not tied to the Coroner’s Act that Peter Dunne mentioned this morning, so I think we all have the responsibility to moderate unhelpful comments that we find online, and to be really vigilant and watch for people that are reaching out.
The biggest risk, I think, and my passion is around preventing the impulsive acts of suicide – none of my acts of suicide were planned, and many of the cases that I’ve been involved with this year were also marked as impulsive, but at each one of those cases they reached out, sometimes only ten minutes before via social and new media, and that’s including text messaging.
So I think we have the responsibility to listen without judgement and really look online for those signs, and be really quick to respond to them, because if you’re prepared to ‘friend’ someone on Facebook, then you must be prepared to be their friend.
Tammy Hohaia: I work for Ruakura Hauora o Tainui who are based here in Manukau. I am part of the national suicide... Maori suicide prevention strategy, Kia Piki Te Ora.
Myself, as a whanau member and friend to many, nationally and internationally, I’d have to say that suicide and suicide themes pop up in pretty much every day conversation, pops up on chat, when you’re Skypeing someone over in England, you know, there’s a suicide programme in the background, or documentary, so I think suicide’s pretty much... it’s everywhere, you know, it’s pretty much bombarding... well, the people that I know, anyway.
So, we see it in our movies, we see it on our TV programmes, newspapers, and right through social media. And I do think that social media can be used to our advantage, just to kind of combat where we see suicide in these other forums.
So I think because from what I’m seeing, suicide is becoming a credible... credible way out, it’s like a credible option, and I think that needs to change, and social media’s new, it’s exciting, and I think if we get in there then it’s still pretty young and early, so I think if we get in there we can really use that to our advantage to... to, you know, get these rates down and to address suicide themes.
Kayte Godward: Oooh-ee! What an awesome panel. My name is Kayte Godward, I’m the Sector Relationship Manager for Lifeline Aotearoa. I am also the Relationship Manager for the National Depression Initiative, so we hold The Lowdown, the journal, and the NDI helpline, so you’ll see... have seen lots of those ads out there that use social media to get... to drive people to the website, and then to drive people towards support.
I have a personal interest in this, I, too, am bipolar, I, too, am also an actress. Yeah, so I’m a professional actor, I work in the industry as well...
Taimi Allen: Comes with the territory.
Kayte Godward: ...I know. And I’ve also experienced bipolar. So I have a real passion for making sure that people like myself I keep safe, and to have the support around them, and also I believe that the Maori and Pasifika communities, we really, really do need to start moving into those communities more so we can deal with this.
Peter Watson: What’s your best offering about how these new social medias can be used as a force for improving mental well-being?
Kayte Godward: I talked about the journal before, and I talked about The Lowdown, were really, really good examples of how we can use television, TVCs, to drive people to the online website where people can hear about other youths and their experience with all sorts of different things, but mostly the most important thing is to hear other people talking, talking about issues that are going on in your life so that it opens up a space for... for that to happen.
So I think that’s a really good example of how it works in social media.
Taimi Allen: I think social media is an impulsive tool, I mean no one really has... writes down about a million times what they’re going to say before they post it on Facebook, unfortunately, but...
Kayte Godward: I do!
Taimi Allen: ...but I think that that’s a good thing that it’s impulsive, because it encourages openness and honesty, and that transparency that we probably need, what we don’t have enough conversations about in real time, so I guess as an example it is if you can role model being open and honest about your own feelings online, then people that probably feel more bad more of the time than they feel good also know that people who feel more good more of the time also have moments of feeling bad. So it’s about role modelling that.
Christopher Banks: I can think of one woman, in particular, who is a regular contributor on the Bipolar Bear Facebook. She actually lives in Australia, and she’s a parent. She hears voices, she has two young children and a husband. And over time, because she’s quite open, and very, very honest about what’s going on for her, including the kind of... the visions that she experiences when she’s distressed, the people who are on the forum, including myself, have been able to track her moods over time, and been able to provide some perspective for her when perhaps she’s been using alcohol as a way to numb the pain, you know, she’ll come online when she’s drunk and she’ll say that she’s drunk.
And there have been times also where we’ve made sure that over the months we’ve been able to get to know her better, and actually, you know, find out more about where she is and where she lives, so that if we see a real situation of crisis emerging, then we can contact the appropriate people. But that’s someone reaching out, and an example of someone reaching out that it’s quite clear from what she’s writing that she’s not openly communicating with the other people in her life, including her husband sometimes, about the way that she’s feeling. And she really feels the pressure because... around the... what she sees and feels, and because she’s a mum and she worries that she can’t be a good parent. So there’s a lot of pressure there, and being able to be in an environment where there are other women with mental illnesses who also are, you know, parents and they can provide her that kind of support.
Taimi Allen: I think what Chris is saying, also, about trying to tangibly find out people that might be in danger, where they live, so that if things, you know, do turn to custard you can help, is a really good idea. And there has been cases where strangers all... from other sides of the world have actually saved people’s lives even though they didn’t know where they lived, by just calling their local emergency number and telling them the IP address that they’ve come from, or where they’ve found the information from, and they’ve saved people’s lives that way. So don’t ever feel helpless, even if you don’t know the person.
Tammy Hohaia: So I also have a... know of a case that happened just recently. There was someone’s Facebook activity, it was... there were a lot of warning signs there with her postings, and her updates, they were really quite... they were a bit on the depressive side, let’s just say, so they were very... one of the things she was doing was giving away what she... her prized possessions. So she was giving away jewellery that she owned, and she was really basically setting herself up for her exit.
And so what we had was one of her cousins saw these signs, and took it upon herself to ring her dad who lived not... in the same neighbourhood as this girl, to check in on her. So she saw this activity, the cousin who identified these signs as being warnings, so what she done was she... she carried on her way on... with her Facebook activity, I think she had a bit of a chat with another cousin. She went to bed that night and remembered that she was supposed to ring her uncle, so she rung her uncle the very next morning, and her uncle went over before he went to work just to check in on her. And unfortunately she did... she did manage to complete her suicide. And... which is really unfortunate, but it just goes to show that people can be aware of the signs online, and there’s... if only she had rung her uncle, you know, that... straight after she saw these signs, there may have been... it may have been different. But I mean that’s not the way it rolled out, and she was... she still done a great job in getting to her uncle to check on her.
Kingi Biddle: I’m holding up a pen, and the korero many years ago was the pen was mightier than the sword. And if I put this pen over there, the pen does nothing. Its only until the time that I pick up the pen and start to use it, then the pen and the words that I write with the pen are able to be used.
Now out there in the social... social media, Facebook, there are many opportunities for us, there are many pages that are coming up about people who’ve passed away, those memorials that one... people are talking about.
And one of the things is that I heard today is that many people are fearful that it can create... that it can create copycat whakamomori. But this is what I say to us, that it’s also an opportunity for us to create possibility, it’s an opportunity for us to create opportunity, and that is for us to go into those... that is an opportunity for us to go into there and promote those messages that can be read by people.
If you look at this, at YouTube currently there’s a group that Haka every week...the Flash Mob, aren’t they, you know, they’re at Sylvia Park Market, they’re at Queen Street. Now I saw that yesterday, the whole of the motu know about it; that’s how fast social media works. There’s a... on Facebook there’s a page that if you are a Kapa Haka freak, then you can go onto that page, it’s called Guess that Haka. There’s about three thousand people on there, fast. So those people have got it; they know how to get that message out fast.
It's a pen. A very sophisticated form of a pen, but whose hands is that social media in? It’s in ours. Who’s committed to making a difference? We are.
So that’s the korero that I have. My korero in regards to bringing those messages. What could those messages be? If you’re into the 80s, with Wham, Choose Life. You know.
And the other thing too is that we have a tupuna in Te Arawa. His name was Tunohopu, and many of us have tupuna like him. There was a time back two hundred years ago when, in war, his son was taken from him. And over a year he mourned; he pined for his son to the point where he said to himself ‘I’m going to die; I’ll die of loneliness, or I’m going to get my son and die from the people who have him captured, irrespective I’m going to die’.
And so he went there, and he got his son. And the tupuna who had the son kidnapped, saw the courage of a man who came in to collect his son. And then that tupuna who had that boy’s son kidnapped said ‘please stand up, I’m in the presence of a rangatira’, and then he gave the son, and the tupuna and his son, came home. In fact they were given a guard to make sure that they got home.
We don’t need to look at movies when we have stories like this. We have our own stories, and this is an opportunity for us to create a robust structure. The before, which many of the marketing people and the communication people can create, and then of course we have the masters here, who can... who are able to read the net to find those ones who are about to fall.
So that’s my little korero. YouTube should be something like OurTube. Because, one last thing Mr Chair, where’s... where’s the power when it becomes OurTube? The cap, the power becomes ours; and with the power we’re able to do something.
Peter Watson: The issue I want to pick up with then is this bit about the net, and when people slip through, ok. So we’re on... we’re all on social networking, or we want to be on social networking, or we... you know, whatever it is that’s going on. The question I guess that I have, and I guess other people might have is, you know, does the medium that’s being used change the content of the message. In other words, it’s not the same as talking to somebody face to face, so if somebody’s telling me face to face that they, you know, they’re, you know, feel helpless, hopeless, they’d rather be dead, you know, I’m going to take that pretty seriously, I can gauge how they are in a face to face conversation. I can’t do that online. It’s coming across on a computer screen.
So my question is, when do we worry, and what do we do with that worry?
Taimi Allen: I think it’s best to start worried and work backwards from there. I mean it’s easy. If... if... you know, if people just say ‘oh look, sorry, it was just a joke, I didn’t really mean it’, then that’s fine, that’s great. But if you start with real empathy and real concern, and validate that those feelings that they have, under the context of what they’re experiencing, are really valid and natural human emotions, then we can kind of work backwards as humans from there.
I think it doesn’t matter that we can’t see people’s face, or people’s expressions. If you are... if you’ve been following their posts, or even if you haven’t really, you can tell whether someone is online every day and has suddenly dropped off for a few days, and you can check in to see how they’re feeling. You can see whether their posts go up and down in terms of their moods with how honest they are about their... the way they’re feeling.
And I think that social media, because of the anonymity, or at least the perceived anonymity of it, means that people are a little bit more honest and open about how they’re feeling in that moment. And for us listening to those moments, it’s about just getting them through that moment. It needs to only be that second, or that minute that you’re on, it does... and it’s about, you know, helping them survive that moment, and keeping them away from the past, and what they’re worried about in the future. I think that that’s what we can do with social media.
Kayte Godward: On The Lowdown, we get tens of thousands of text and email messages every month from young people, and we do so many interventions, it’s... you know, it’s incredible how many interventions, suicide interventions that we will do with a young person. It does not matter that we cannot see their face. The point is that we’re engaging with them, and we’re listening to them, and we’re picking up on the cues that they’re giving us. And we ask them the question. And they might turn around and say ‘nah’, or they might turn around and start engaging with us, and then we just start listening to their reasons for dying and their reasons for living, and then we work with the reasons for living.
Tammy Hohaia: I find that people are way more open online as opposed to face-to-face, and I think that, you know, for example go on Facebook or social media... other social media sites, and rangatahi in particular, our youth, they let their whole life story out online, so they’re very open online, and I think face-to-face is good, but it might be a bit intimidating, because I kind of find that myself. So it’s easier to work through a different forum, so have like a third party which... so you’ll use like social media sites and stuff, instead of... to relay your message to someone. It’s just a bit easier, it’s less intimidating, and you can’t read their facial cues, you can’t see if they’re judging you or not, so I think it’s another excellent form.
Taimi Allen: And it’s not just Facebook, there’s a whole lot of help sites out there where you can create your own avatar and be whoever you want to be, so that anonymity means that people do express what they’re feeling quite openly.
Christopher Banks: I think that it’s not the content of what people are writing that changes, but it’s how its potentially perceived by others. And some people, I... don’t take what they see posted on the internet or social media seriously enough, and there have been some horrific cases. There’s even... there’s an entire Wikipedia page devoted to social media and suicide, and there’ve been some horrible cases overseas where people have posted that they’re going to do something, and people didn’t react, or perhaps thought they were joking and even egged them on.
Taimi Allen: Or filmed it live, I think is one of them.
Christopher Banks: Yeah. Yeah. And so there are those cases where, you know, it’s not taken seriously. I mean at the other end of the scale I had a friend, yesterday, who posted as a status update something along the lines of ‘don’t you think there’s just some days when you just have to ask ‘why?’’ And I phoned him up, just to see how he was; he was very surprised to hear from me, and I just said ‘well I didn’t think you were going to throw yourself off a bridge or anything, I just was concerned about you, I just wanted to check in and see how you were’. And as it was, he was just having one of those days. But I think it’s always important to check, and it’s... you just have to ask the question, and start a conversation with somebody.
And if you’re really worried about the content of what they’re writing, if they’re starting to have a continual dialogue around something, like saying ‘well what’s the point’, or, you know, ‘I don’t think...’, you know, ‘my kids would be better off without me’, and that kind of thing, that’s when it’s appropriate to actually ask the direct question ‘have you been thinking about harming yourself’. It’s ok to ask that question, because that’s when you can really find out if somebody is at an emergency point, or whether they’re just needing to talk further.
Taimi Allen: And don’t be afraid to ask that question; I think too many people are afraid to ask online because it is so public. I mean most of those social networking sites have those little private messages you can send someone as well if you don’t know their phone number, and that’s important.
But I think in terms of asking the question, when you get into big private conversations with people, once you’ve tried to seek some help, I find it really useful to ask those questions around why it is that they think that things would be better if they weren’t here. Because when you get to the underlying issues - and perhaps they are issues of being overwhelmed, or they need a freedom from pain, or responsibility, or guilt, or financial strain, all of those things – all of those things are stuff that we can deal with, without having to have counselling qualifications. It’s just by being humans to other humans. And if we can find that underlying issue that makes them feel that they’re better off not on earth, then we can address the other solutions that there are out there that they might not be able to think about in that moment of pain.
Peter Watson: I’m not aware of many services engaging in social media discourse with groups of clients and on a large scale, so I’m wondering whether we might be venturing into that, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on it. It would be a radical thing, certainly, you know, where I work in the DHB to have, you know, clinicians engaged in social networking conversations with their clients. We’re all very conscious of boundaries, and, you know, and keeping ourselves safe. And I guess, you know, do we have clinicians who will then be friending clients on Facebook. And you hear of some of those sorts of issues coming up in schools between teachers and students, and I think it’s an area of concern, and no one’s quite sure where we might be going with that, and I just wondered if you had some thoughts.
Taimi Allen: We’ve been looking at some really good examples of those sorts of services that are online overseas, and two really amazing ones that I’ve come across that I really like are the SAMHSA website, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the US, and they’re basic avatar and kind of peer-led conversations with suicide survivors. And the other one is called the Big White Wall, and that’s a UK-based website where people can actually not only help each other, but use their creativity to create a brick that then goes in the wall to help others, and everyone can look at it, and it’s a really lovely way of finding the positive aspects of some of these experiences. So they’re some of the things that we’re looking at.
But I mean you run a text based...
Kayte Godward: Ah, yeah, so one of the things that we have is for The Lowdown, it’s called a message board. So when young people go on to The Lowdown website they can choose to either go and navigate on their own, or they can go through with like Jane Yee, or Awa from Nesian Mystik. There’s four avatars there that they can go through with.
And once they get in there, there’s a peer message board, so it’s other young people talking about their experience in realtime with young people who are coming through the site. One of the things that we do do is we moderate it, so we have our operators... senior operators who are able to moderate any of the messages. So if there’s any risk messages there, they won’t be put up, they won’t be posted, but we will contact the person directly.
Often, though, the young people who are engaging in the message board with each other are also engaging with The Lowdown, so they’re getting the support through text or email services.
Peter Watson: I’m not sure everyone knows, or is up to play with avatars.
Kayte Godward: Ok, well sorry, I used the word avatar, it was actually a navigator. You used the word avatar. So the navigators are just people, so characters that you can go through with, so you can go on the journey either by yourself as yourself, or you can go on the journey as somebody else.
And sometimes you can choose really cool things like... I know Sparks, you can choose to be a Maori warrior, you can choose clothing and, you know, different kind of traits. And they are pretty cool and they engage with young people. But for our one, it’s actually like real celebrities that they can go through the website with.
Taimi Allen: Yeah, basically an avatar is creating yourself however you want to look, so you might have big, red Mohawk or something, or you might be a dragon, it’s what... you know, it’s about creating a version of yourself that you’re willing to put online.
And Sparks, it is a gaming platform that has been developed by the University of Auckland, I think that is being trialled on youth at the moment.
Christopher Banks: Can I just make the quick point that it’s not just young people that are heavily involved with in engaging in social media, and the... most of the people that I would engage with would be aged thirty and up, and it certainly would be the same if you were to look at the... there’s about five thousand people connected through the Nutters Club page now, and it’s the same there. So I... although that we seem to associate social media and that with younger people, that it is actually something that people who are middle-aged and older are engaging in just as much, and being just as open about their lives online.
Barry Taylor: Barry Taylor, Wairarapa District Health Board. As you may know there’s been a range of suicides of young people in our community. The biggest problem that we have had in the last week is the rumours, false information of people suiciding. And what happens to a community of people is that sometimes a mythology becomes a reality, and that therefore people believe that actually everyone is suiciding.
To me the question is, is not about the benefit, is how do we actually deal with it when it becomes unhelpful.
Christopher Banks: When you had the public meeting recently, which was... was it last night, or a couple of nights ago, that a lot of that I believe was about dispelling a lot of the myths and rumours that had been going round in the community. So what sorts of things do you say at those meetings, because I think that would be helpful to know what those kind of dialogues are so we can take those back online.
Peter Watson: Can I... sorry, Barry, can I just hold you one minute? That would be great. But I just wonder if we’ve got a specific answer to his question about what do we do, because you... your suggestion, Chris, is to take those... that advice and put it back online. Is that the answer to the question about what to do, or is there another answer to that question about...
Christopher Banks: I think that would be part of it, because I think that the rumours that go on in a community after there’s a series of suicides, those discussions are going to be happening all over the place. The benefit of social media is that those discussions are flushed out into the open where we can see them, so we can actually go in there potentially and engage in the discussion. But some of us might not know what to say if there’s a whole dialogue going round about ‘oh I heard that this... such-and-such was happening, and this was happening’, because I know there’s a particular page that Barry’s talking about where those rumours were flying around on Facebook. And I mean you can put stuff up, and take the discussion in a completely different direction and say ‘well look, here’s a support number you can call’, or ‘here’s this’. But in order... if... what you... how do you address those rumours directly?
Barry Taylor: One thing that we did as DHB, is we created our own Facebook page, so we actually use that. The difficulty is getting the people to like it in terms of... and making it becoming just as viral as the other ones, and that’s always the challenge.
But I... like I think like even the way that like Chris, you contacted... said, you know, ‘how can we help’, like ‘how can we intervene’. It’s how do we change the narrative is the question, is interrupt the thinking.
Taimi Allen: Yeah, I think the answer to that is you need to get better at social media than they are at spreading the message. But you’re already starting that with the meetings that you had last night, with this newspaper article that was in the paper yesterday saying that there is no mass teen suicide pact, you know, it is rubbish, it’s a myth. It’s about using the media back, and it’s using mainstream media, it’s using social media, it’s using people like people on the panel that use the media all the time, that can use our huge, enormous networks to pass that message on even further. And it’s kind of just having maybe two or three really good contacts that you know are great networkers in that field that can push back that message, and cut that conversation really short, and really quickly.
Kingi Biddle: And the other thing that you might want to do, and coming from a media standpoint is, the main thing for myself that you need to have, and that is to have a... you can have all the contacts that you need to get the message out, but you need to have a message. And one of the good things about that is getting together a press release. Get together a press release and stick to it.
Audience Member: If there’s one way of actually getting this korero out there, then let’s go back to our own te reo irirangi and develop a programme where we can have a half-hour session for our rangatahi to ring in, and korero to us.
Kingi Biddle: And the other thing to that is the beauty of te reo irirangi Maori is that we are now linked to the net, and so what that means is that overseas are also able to be privy to that information, and to those korero to the point where they can even contribute as well. And that’s now our... Maori Radio was not only going to... not only going to New Zealand as a whole, but it’s going global as well.
And the other thing too, is not just Maori Radio. Any radio, any place that you can get that message out.
Audience Member: Just got some questions in relation to this whole avatar and narrator side of things, because isn’t that, again, increasing the level of disconnectedness, when we’re talking about the whole ability to deal with suicide is actually a greater level of community and connection. And doesn’t this then place them further out?
So I’m just wondering from you guys’ perspective, what do we do about that? Are they already somebody that we would consider a potential risk that they can’t even be themselves, that they’ve got to try and be someone that they’re not? Should we not already think that they’re worth giving attention to in that?
And then also another question kind of tying with that, is how do you then get them from social media into an actual conversation, because I think, you know, an illiterate generation that don’t know how to have a conversation is dangerous in itself.
Kayte Godward: You know, sometimes we’ve got to trial things out, and sometimes it’s easier to stand behind versions of ourselves. It doesn’t mean it’s not us, it’s just a different version of us, until we feel safe enough that the people out there who are actually able to listen – it’s not just about people opening up, it’s about people out there who are prepared to listen.
Taimi Allen: It's about being really afraid. If you’re too afraid to be yourself, then you might not be too afraid to be someone else, and that’s when the conversations start. And if we didn’t have things like avatars and pretend names on the internet, that maybe those conversations would never start.
So it’s a real opportunity for us to... maybe... maybe they are the more vulnerable people, but I mean I have both public profiles and private profiles depending on what I want to ask people, and what answers I’m expecting to get.
I mean some of the things that you feel that you’re going to... for better or for worse... feel that you’re going to be more judged on are perhaps the things you’re going to hide behind a persona, so to speak, to try and find some answers for.
And when you’re speaking to those personas, then you can start directing them towards services that might also be online, but might make them available, you know, to start speaking and have real conversations.
And also, whether you like it or not, nothing is really anonymous on the web. I mean if someone was really in danger, and you rang... if you rang the police and told them whereabouts you found that message that you were really worried about, they’d be able to search their IP address and find out where that person is. It’s not really that hard.
Christopher Banks: I’ve had three occasions this year where I’ve... either myself, or someone through my page, or a colleague has called and... called a service and intervened based on a post that we’ve seen. So it is possible to do it.
Aidee Walker: Kia ora, my name’s Aidee Walker, I’m an ambassador for the Mental Health Foundation, and they sponsored me to come today, because I’m organising a ride called Right Out of the Blue, and some of you may have known it from this year, and we’re basically doing a bike ride from the South to the... Cape Reinga in March on a bicycle, it’s twenty-one days. And the point of it is for dialogue... you know, the dialogue of... to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of depression and suicide. And I was thinking about social networking, like without that, we can’t reach everyone, because we can’t go to every city. But we’re really trying to take the routes, you know, in visiting small cities, and holding exhibitions and the whole works.
The focus is to celebrate lives, celebrate the lives that have been lost. And I mean obviously for their families, it’s not glamorising it, because its celebrating their child which is, you know, the focus. But how... yeah, how do we make it so that this is... it’s crucial, but, yeah, it’s that creating that dialogue without, yeah, without glamorising it. And I just... I don’t know how, through social... you know, to make sure that doesn’t happen, through social networking as well.
Christopher Banks: Well it’s about sort of... it’s separating the act from the person. You shouldn’t have to not talk about the person, or say that that person had a bad life. You just have to separate that one act. I mean it would be the same thing if somebody got drunk and accidentally killed themselves in a car accident. You would... you know, you would not want to never talk about them ever again, so it’s about separating those two things.
Taimi Allen: I mean I heard a conversation on Radio Live yesterday, which I was quite concerned about, because the host was talking about people who commit suicide having... being very courageous and noble, and I had...
Christopher Banks: Say who it was.
Taimi Allen: ...no, I’m not saying who it was. But I had a real problem with that, because even though I’ve been there, I’d never felt courageous or noble at that time, and I think that that is the fear that we get into in terms of glamorising it.
I feel the way to not glamorise... the... people think that not glamorising it is doing those really silly comments, unhelpful comments like ‘that’s stupid and selfish’ and things, and that’s not helpful either. It’s about finding that middle ground that is compassionate and empathetic, without condoning it.
Audience Member: I totally understand the social media side of things, but all morning we have heard that community is what we need, we need to be gathering community. I understand that it can happen in the social media context, but I want to know are the kids you’re dealing with, when they get a bit weller, are they getting told about community, and about connecting face-to-face, and about touching other people.
Taimi Allen: Yes. And as Chris said, they’re not... they’re not just kids. Most Facebook pages are set up by people that... or organisations that actually exist in the physical world as well. So maybe the first step is to contact them on social media, and then its finding about where they are, and what other community links they have to support them.
Peter Watson: I’d like to really thank our panellists for a wonderful presentation. Thank you, guys.