On the night of Feb. 26, someone posted in Brown Confessions, “I’m suicidal, but I’m too much of a pussy to actually do it.” When I read this post I was terrified. Immediately I questioned what I should do. Should I try to convince this person to identify him or herself? Call Psychological Services or some other form of suicide hotline? But I did nothing.
This column isn’t about the morality of doing or not doing something. Within a few minutes, this crisis had passed when someone commented with a phone number to call. Some other individuals commented long appeals on why not to do it. I cannot pretend to speak for all people who have Brown Confessions on their Facebook News Feeds, but I did not sign up for this.
I feel awful for the person who posted that comment. I wish I could give him or her the help he or she needed, but frankly, I can’t on that Facebook page. There is no shame in mental illness or rough times. I have been in some pretty rock-bottom psychological places myself, but my ability, or anyone else’s ability to relate to what this person is going through does not make it Facebook-appropriate.
When I read this post, I described feeling scared, but I also felt isolated and helpless. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility that if this person went through with hurting him or herself, it would be partially my fault for having read it and failed in helping.
The following afternoon, another person posted “I’m struggling with bulimia. My family knows but my friends don’t. The weight gain is making me more depressed than I’ve ever been in my life. Psych Services didn’t help.” I feel awful for this person, too. He or she should never feel ashamed for struggling with this illness. But should this be on Brown Confessions — a page so anonymous that instead of messaging the administrators of the page, you upload your confessions through SurveyMonkey?
I am not even going to outright state these sorts of pleas for help shouldn’t be on Facebook. If there exist groups of people on this campus who want to set up a serious confession hotline for these sorts of admittances and cries for help — people who are dedicated to reading each and every post and helping those in need — I would be in full support of them. But it should not be the burden on 600 students’ shoulders, students with varying degrees of Facebook activity, to sift through all of the confessions in search of the anonymous people who may be in physical or psychological danger.
At first, the confessions on this page were benign, but in a matter of days they escalated to some people confessing about serious problems they were facing. Do the confessions I mentioned above seem appropriate in the context that placed them below a comment such as, “I know I should be paying attention in class, but my professor has really great tits and all I can do is fantasize about having sex with her?” Does it seem appropriate that people have liked the comments I mentioned above? I am sure their intentions were in the right place, but a thumbs up near a post like one of these seems inherently inappropriate.
We can’t change the nature of the Brown Confessions page as it is. “Confessions” is a Facebook fad, just like its predecessors, Brown Compliments and Brown Admirers, and it will be primarily composed of friends giving each other ego boosts and trolling. I don’t think Brown Confessions is the right venue to confess depression or feelings of inadequacy. It’s not fair to the uninvolved Brown populace and it’s not fair to the posters, who are not getting the help or attention they deserve. There are plenty of forums on campus to discuss these important topics, but I don’t think it should be popping up on so many students’ News Feeds.
Some of us are more capable of emotionally supporting others than the rest of us, but the point is that there are plenty of things college students should not have to deal with — not because we shouldn’t care, but because they are beyond our capacities to handle. Some of us are barely holding our lives together as it is. Our limits need to stop being tested on these Facebook groups of diverse constituencies before things get out of control and we see our limits fail.
Caitlin Dorman ’16 is concentrating in Science and Society and is interested in receiving your feedback at email@example.com.