Mental health advocate: Act now to prevent another ‘Instagram death’

Phone with instagram

A mental health advocate insists there should be early intervention to prevent loss of lives as a result of social media postings.

Commenting on the death of a 16-year-old girl in Kuching after she conducted an Instagram poll, Malaysia Psychiatric Association patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye called on the authorities to act quickly.

“There is a lesson to be learnt from this incident. Let this be a clear message to those using or operating social media services, when it comes to matters of life and death, early action must be taken to prevent a tragedy,” said Lee, who is also a member of the Malaysian Mental Health Advisory Council.

“The power of the social media is evident … a poll was posted on Instagram and may have led to a death.

“Let the authorities examine this issue and see how and what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence.”

Lee said the teenager was at a critical age and that she still required the guidance of her parents and loved ones.

The teenager is believed to have fallen to her death from the third floor of a shoplot building in Batu Kawa at about 8pm on Monday. The girl posted an online poll on her Instagram account five hours earlier. The poll read: “Really Important, Help Me Choose D/L”. It is believed ‘D’ was for death while ‘L’ was live. Sixty-nine per cent had voted for ‘D’.

The teen had also allegedly posted “Wanna Quit F**king Life I’m Tired” on her Facebook account. Her body was found on the street by her brother who was on his way home after dinner with their mother.

It was reported that the victim was apparently disappointed with her stepfather, who is working in Singapore, as he had not returned to Kuching often after marrying a Vietnamese woman.

“The girl was clearly upset about something and sought the views of her peers on social media. She was very much influenced by what was said on social media and believed that was the solution,” Lee said.

“They (operators of Instagram) could have intervened early and could have sent out some alert and someone could have come to her (the victim’s help). The interval (between 3pm and 8pm) was long but there was no intervention. No one cared and thought it was one of those things. As a result, the girl decided to take her life.”

Lee said it’s always best to adopt a “person to person” approach rather than seek views or guidance on social media.

“Some people don’t take social media seriously. They think it’s just for fun and they voted for something they shouldn’t. This is where social media is misused.”

Lee said the episode could have been avoided.

“Those who knew her well (upon seeing the posting) should have tried to reach out, to meet her, to talk to her,” he added.

Senior consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar Singh HSS had yesterday told Twentytwo13 that an alert mechanism was needed to notify concerned parties of suicidal postings on social media platforms.

Dr Amar also said it was important to have safeguards within the software of social media platforms and that in reaching out, “something has to be done physically”.

Facebook had earlier this year said it was “deeply sorry” after 14-year-old Molly Russel, who committed suicide in 2017, had viewed disturbing content about suicide on social media.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said graphic content on self-harm and suicide “has no place on our platform”.

Molly’s father, Ian Russel, told BBC “I have no doubt that Instagram helped kill my daughter”.

In a statement, Instagram said it “does not allow content that promotes or glorifies self-harm or suicide and will remove content of this kind.”

Instagram also provides a list of groups for those who have thoughts about suicide or inflicting self-injury in its Help Centre page.

If you have been affected by self-harm or emotional distress, contact Befrienders at +603- 79568144/ 8145 (24 hours).