Thanks for posting Louise Tam's article, "From Risk to Harm..." I'm subscribed to Compassion Alerts where Tumblr users respond to posts that suggest that a user will commit suicide. According to this article, alerting the authorities may not be a good idea, as people may misinterpret the user's behavior and/or it may go on their criminal record. Do you have any suggestions for how we can balance helping those who may really need professional help vs. finding alternative approaches to help?
Thanks for writing, and for keeping an eye out for people who might need help. You ask a really good question, one that there's not only one good answer to. In her article, Tam mentions that her support network is vital to her health, in that she can depend on them to hold the possibilities of different forms of coping and self-care than might be expected.
When reaching out for others online whom we often don't know IRL, this can be really challenging. There is often no way to know for sure whether the person needs professional crisis intervention versus everyday support from other places. We at Emotion Technology tend to err on the side of reaching out to professional support, because these complications are preferable to that person's death by suicide.
She points out some important macro level issues that need addressing, like profiling and negative stigma against those who might have been visited by authorities for mental health resources.
As for what you can do, keep reaching out, human to human, and follow your instincts. If you do end up reporting someone, follow up -- don't assume that the authorities will take care of everything and that's that. Keep in touch when possible, and be part of that person's support network in whatever way you can be, even if it's just to tell them, "I care. I'll check in again in a few days to see how you're doing." And then check in, as much as you need to.
Thanks again for reaching out and caring. The Internet needs more digital citizens like you!