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Distressing content on TikTok - Mental Health Foundation

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is today issuing a public advisory that footage that appears to show a man dying by suicide is being shared on the social media platform TikTok and viewers of this video may be extremely distressed. While the platform is working to remove the footage, it has been copied and distributed elsewhere.

"Do not share this video under any circumstances," MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says. "And don’t share websites or places it can be found. It puts vulnerable people at an extremely high risk of real harm. There is no reason whatsoever to share it."

The Foundation advises anyone who may be affected by this video to avoid TikTok and other social media platforms where it may be shared for a few days and reminds parents and caregivers to closely monitor their children’s social media activity, particularly at the moment.

The Foundation is very concerned that awareness of the video among young people in New Zealand has increased today, with many well-meaning attempts to caution followers not to share the video inadvertently raising awareness of the video’s existence and comments sections sharing links to websites where the video can still be found.

"Suicide is a contagious behaviour and we are deeply concerned that this video is being shared," Mr Robinson says. "Viewers are likely to be considerably distressed after seeing the video. As it may have been widely viewed, the Foundation has decided to speak out requesting parents, caregivers and others supporting young people take proactive steps to check in on young people and anyone who may be at risk of suicide."

It is always difficult to balance a need for parents and caregivers to be aware of any risks to their children with real concerns about alerting more people to the existence and availability content that will cause harm.

"You don’t need to mention the video, but it’s never a bad time to check in," Mr Robinson says.

Increasing media coverage and sharing on social media has created widespread panic and alarm and the Foundation wants New Zealanders to feel confident they can mitigate the harm this video may cause by having supportive and open conversations, particularly with young people and those who may be at risk of suicide.

There is no evidence anyone in New Zealand has harmed themselves as a result of the video but it is a risk we must be aware of and must respond to.

Young people are aware of and talking about this video. Some may be distressed by it, others may be intrigued and seeking out ways to find it.

Young people use social media differently to adults and will almost inevitably encounter material related to mental health, self-harm and suicide. As adults it’s our job to ensure they are supported to talk about things that concern them and access any help they need.

The Foundation is aware authorities and professionals in New Zealand are working with social media platforms to try and remove content that contains footage of the video or references it. This will take some time, and in the meantime parents and caregivers must take the lead in keeping young people safe online.

"It’s up to us to bridge the gaps between adults and rangatahi and ensure we’re there to help," Mr Robinson says. "Social media can be a huge positive for many young people - banning it isn’t the answer. We need to ensure young people feel they can safely talk to the adults in their lives about distressing things they have seen or heard without fear of punishment or losing access to social media."

The Foundation strongly advises media and the public to exercise extreme caution when talking about the video, and balance the very real risks of further distribution against the public interest to know enough to protect those who may be affected. Please include suicide prevention information in any discussion or coverage of this video. Suicide is preventable, there is help available and the risks associated with this video can be managed.

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