By IAN YEE
IF YOU think that youths only use social media to announce what they had had for lunch, or try to bring down a Ugandan warlord by clicking “Like”, think again.
While the “slacktivism” debate rages on in the aftermath of Kony 2012, a group of young people has decided to take some positive action and make a difference among their peers through social media.
The Interact Club of SMK (P) Sri Aman, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, has set up a anonymous counselling service using the micro-blogging site Tumblr, for students dealing with depression – the first step of a campaign that ultimately hopes to raise greater awareness about depression and suicide among young people.
Students facing problems can log on to the Sirens For Silhouettes campaign on Tumblr, share their thoughts and issues, and the peer counsellors of SMK (P) Sri Aman, working together with the school’s teacher counsellors, will send them reassuring messages and words of advice.
It’s a simple, well-meaning campaign driven by the students’ concern over an issue affecting their peers that they feel is not sufficiently covered. No slick marketing, no grand over-the-top ideas.
“It’s just advice to spread understanding,” said Nadiah Ramli, 17, the campaign’s organising vice chairperson. “In Malaysia, we always think that suicide or depression is just something that you see on TV or in the movies. They don’t think it’ll happen to someone they know.
“But in reality, it could happen to anyone – friends, parents, siblings, relatives.”
One painful reminder of that is the recent case of E. Prem Kumar, the 18-year-old boy who committed suicide, apparently over his SPM results.
By allowing students to openly discuss their problems, albeit anonymously, Nadiah says Sirens For Silhouettes hopes to break the “taboo” surrounding depression, which she believes is another problem for young people: “It’s still a sensitive topic. People don’t want to talk about it.”
Still, arguably the most interesting aspect of this campaign is the use of Tumblr, particularly its “Ask” feature.
Tumblr users can ask other users questions, which will show up as a message in the recipient’s inbox. Sirens For Silhouettes uses this feature to allow people to send their problems to them, and receive a notification once a response has been posted.
One “Ask” they’ve received reads:
sometimes i cut myself and i dont know what to do. the scars show really badly but i always say my cat scratches me when people ask.
i just feel so alone bcs my parents are always at work and my siblings dont care at all. my friends only seem to care about superficial things lk boys and shopping and stuffs. i dont know who to talk to.”
The response from peer counsellors are simple, yet empathetic, for instance:
Thank you for considering to come up and ask us here. First of all, why not start by thinking of alternatives to cutting such as writing your feelings down. It helps, especially when there’s no one there to hear you out. For your scars, I suggest you hold an ice over them, and putting bandages. It will fade eventually.
If your friends are superficial, go look out for new ones. They aren’t the ones who you should be calling friends. There is always someone out there who cares about you! 🙂 Don’t continue this bad habit because it’s a step closer to suicide and suicide is never the answer.”
According to Nadiah, young people in Malaysia now feel much more comfortable expressing their feelings online than they do in person, which is why they chose Tumblr.
Nadiah says many of her peers have approached the organisers since the campaign took off, saying that they noticed friends who would insist they were fine, but then make worrying posts on social media.
In fact, the money raised from the campaign – which will culminate with a charity walk and carnival to raise funds for the Malaysian Mental Health Association – was supposed to go to a suicide hotline, but the organisers decided that hotlines weren’t the most relevant to young people.
“I’m not sure about others, but I would definitely be more comfortable posting about my problems anonymously on a social media service rather than a hotline,” she said.
The peer counsellors have at times been caught out of their depth with the problems being posted to them. One teenager even said he wished god would give him cancer. Those cases are referred to the school’s teacher counsellors.
As for the main causes of depression she sees among her peers, Nadiah says it’s rarely studies-related. “It’s mostly personal problems, like relationships issues, or family issues.”
Still, Nadiah remains realistic on how much the campaign can really achieve. For now, everyone in the school seems supportive, and do appear to be more aware and sensitive towards issues surrounding depression, but Nadiah hopes Sirens for Silhouettes could have a more long-lasting impact.
“In my school, they’re usually very semangat (enthusiastic) about events like these,” she said. “I think some people might just buy the tickets (to the charity walk) because everyone else is buying them.
“But we hope they really learn something about (depression), because it’s not just about raising the money. It’s about raising awareness.”
But as with all forms of social media, things have the potential to go viral. And if it does,
Nadiah says the organisers are willing to take it even further and do something on a larger scale beyond the walls of their school. Already there are plans to make the Sirens for Silhouettes Tumblr a permanent programme in the school.
“At the moment, I think most of the problems we’re receiving are from people in our school,” she said. “But we’ve even had someone, presumably from the Philippines, asking us if we would be organising an event over there!
“That’s the thing with Tumblr, things can go viral very fast. If it’s possible, if things take off, we will go bigger. I mean, if it touches people, then why not?”