When I ask Riley how he found r/SuicideWatch, Reddit’s ever-expanding suicide support community, he tells me he discovered it the same way many other people do — by typing “I want to kill myself” into the blank space of a Google search bar and scrolling past the hotlines and self-help listicles in search of something more relatable. Just a few weeks ago, the 26-year-old sous chef and friend of mine had decided suicide would be the best way to end to his struggle with debt and depression. When scouring the internet for a reason to stay, a link to SuicideWatch caught his eye. He took the bait and clicked.
The first post he read was titled, “I’m in the Queue for a Suicide Chat and There’s 54 People Ahead of Me.” That felt familiar.
“I’ve given up on those chats,” one commenter responded. “I’m here if you want to talk, though.”
“Awesome there are so many here willing to chat,” wrote another, referring to the nearly 300 people who’d weighed in on the topic. “How many times a day can you speak openly about suicide to people?”
Riley was amazed. He’d never been able to talk about these things with his friends or family, yet here was a Reddit page, of all places, where thousands of people were reaching out for help in their most vulnerable moments. In his words, he’d stumbled upon a “catharsis factory.”
SuicideWatch is a special corner of Reddit, where people struggling with suicidal thoughts can go to find compassion, support and solidarity. Under the veiled anonymity of a screen name, redditors can speak openly and honestly about what they’re going through, safely revealing the darkest parts of themselves to a network of strangers who tend to understand what they’re going through better than the average friend or loved one.
In turn, the SuicideWatch community and its moderators respond with a concern and tenderness that’s hard to find elsewhere Reddit — instead of being ridiculed, shamed or egged on, people who reach out for help on SuicideWatch are met with resources, empathy and the always-present refrain, “You can talk to me. I’ve been there.” As of today, SuicideWatch has more than 100,000 subscribers.
However, while SuicideWatch is a community for anyone teetering on the edge, still-to-be-published research by Darla Still and Amelia Blume of the University of Arizona has revealed it’s making a particular impact on one group in particular — boys and men like Riley who may feel that, for one reason or another, they can’t talk about their emotions or seek help.