Social Media and High-Risk Situations

Social Media and High-Risk Situations

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.[1] This week, a gentleman live-streamed his suicide on Tik Tok in a graphic video. The video has been circulated on Tik Tok, Twitter, and Facebook. Specifically, on Tik Tok, some individuals are taking the video and embedding it into other videos on Tik Tok’s For You Page (FYP), where unsuspecting people scroll and inadvertently see the video within a completely unrelated video. Unfortunately, this has become widespread and, reportedly, Tik Tok is attempting to take all of the videos down.[2]

We want to make you aware of this timely and unsettling incident, as your patients may use any, or all, of these social media platforms and could end up seeing this video. For those who have behavioral health issues, this video could trigger additional issues. Even for those who do not, witnessing this could be unsettling and traumatic. It is something you may need to discuss and process with your patients.

Social media use has grown considerably during the pandemic, and patients may engage in social media now more than ever. In fact, a poll conducted found that 46-51% of U.S. adults were using social media more since the outbreak.[3] They could be using social media as a way to stay connected or obtain information given that so many of us are unable to see friends and family.

It is important to be mindful of how your patients are doing during this time. In our previous Blog, “Telehealth and High-Risk Situations,” we cited a poll where nearly half of Americans reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their mental health. Individuals may often vent or openly post about problems on social media platforms. There may be posts about struggles, addiction, or other behavioral health issues. You could either see a patient’s post directly, or it could be reported to you through a friend, family member, or from a collateral, such as a teacher. The post may or may not end up being something that could result in immediate harm to self or others. It is important; however, to be aware of your obligations and when you may need to act on a post. A few items to keep in mind:

  • If your patient observes a post that could potentially trigger or cause him/her harm, openly discuss it. If there is concern of patient safety, be aware of the steps to take.
  • If you are informed of or witness a post in which you are concerned that a patient may be at risk of harm to self or others, be aware of your obligations as a mandated reporter. Know what steps you may need to take. 
  • Be aware if you need to take immediate steps to seek assistance. If possible, know the patient’s location ahead of time to be able to quickly seek assistance. You may not be in a session at the time you become aware of an issue; however, you may need to attempt to find out the patient’s location.
  • Know when you may need to quickly take action by contacting the relevant authorities. Safety is of the utmost importance.
  • Know if you are a mandated reporter and what the requirements are in your state.
  • Be aware if you have a duty to warn/protect and steps you may need to take. Specific to mental health, the National Conference of State Legislatures has a complete list of each states’ laws, and it is important you know the rules in your particular state. If you are an Allied Healthcare Professional not providing mental health treatment, check your board of licensure’s website, your professional organization’s website, and your state website for applicable laws. As regulations change, it is important to be up to date on the laws in your state pertaining to duty to warn/protect.[4]
  • If you have time, i.e., the situation does not put the patient or others at imminent risk, seek advice from a risk management professional or an attorney.


Substance Abuse and Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) distress helpline — 1-800-985-5990 or text “talk with us” to 66746

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) — 1-800-950-6264 (Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET)


 211 — National Suicide Hotline National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Support

Crisis Textline — Text Connect to 741741


1 National Alliance on Mental Illness, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month,, [last accessed Sept. 8, 2020]

2 Mack, D., TikTok Is Warning Users About A Video Showing A Suicide,

3 Samet, A., 2020 U.S. Social Media Usage: How the Coronavirus is Changing Consumer Behavior, Business Insider,

4 National Conference of State Legislatures, Mental Health Professionals’ Duty to Warn,;Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 17 Cal. 3d 425, 551 P.2d 334, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14 (Cal. 1976)



Kristen Lambert, JD, MSW, LICSW, CPHRM, FASHRM
Healthcare Practice and Risk Management Innovation Officer
Trust Risk Management Services, Inc.

NOTE: This information is provided as a risk management resource and is not legal advice or an individualized personal consultation. At the time this resource was prepared, all information was as current and accurate as possible; however, regulations, laws, or prevailing professional practice standards may have changed since the posting or recording of this resource. Accordingly, it is your responsibility to confirm whether regulatory or legal issues that are relevant to you have since been updated and/or to consult with your professional advisors or legal counsel for timely guidance specific to your situation. As with all professional use of material, please explicitly cite The Trust as the source if you reproduce or distribute any portion of these resources. Reproduction or distribution of this resource without the express written permission of The Trust Companies is strictly prohibited.