“if i killed myself, would anyone notice my absence? would anyone remember my name after a week? a month? a year? would the world be any worse than it is now?” reads the beginning of a Tiger Confession post from Feb. 14.
Suicidal posts illustrate the increase in the wide-ranging number of posts about mental health, correlated with a general increase in activity on Tiger Confessions, a student-run Facebook group created on October 30, 2018; the group currently boasts over 4,000 followers and over 6,000 posts.
The group allows students to anonymously post anything from random compliments to suicidal thoughts, and conversation around mental health on Tiger Confessions includes a variety of topics, including self-harm, depression, anxiety, and loneliness, among others. These posts have ignited changes in how the page is run and how students interact on the page.
Throughout the two months that Tiger Confessions was active in 2018, only one post mentioned the word “suicidal,” in reference to other people’s mental health. In January alone, there were 11 posts that said the words “suicide” or “suicidal,” four of which explicitly expressed suicidal thoughts. In February, there were 18 posts that mention the words “suicide” or “suicidal,” in 8 of which people explicitly express their own suicidal thoughts.
There have been 1660 posts on TigerConfessions in 2018, 2298 posts in January, and 2154 posts in February. Posts mentioning the words “suicide” or “suicidal” were 0.06 percent of 2018 posts, 0.48 percent of January 2019 posts, and 0.84 percent of February 2019 posts.
The causes of suicidal ideation mentioned on Tiger Confessions include school-related stress, Bicker, and relationship issues, with users posting, “I never feel as close to suicide as I do right after taking a test that’s worth half of my grade” and “I think I am going to commit suicide if I get hosed.”
In a Q&A with The Daily Princetonian in January, Ty Ger, the original anonymous administrator of Tiger Confessions, said, “Some of [the posts] are very detailed, and I’m not sure if I should post them. But I also feel like I have an obligation to post them. Because, the last thing you want for someone who submits something like that is to feel like they’re just talking to no one and that their problems are being ignored … But on the other hand, I feel like when you crowdsource advice, it’s maybe not the best way to get help.”
To rectify this, Ty Ger provides trigger warnings on posts that might disturb readers.
“Some people include trigger warnings with their submissions, while others have to be added by me and the other moderators. We have gotten many messages saying it would be helpful to have trigger warnings for sensitive topics like sexual assault, which is what prompted us to start doing that,” Ty Ger wrote in texts with the ‘Prince.’
Now trigger warnings include “self-harm,” “suicidal ideation,” “eating disorder,” “rape,” and more.
Ty Ger confirmed that submissions remain anonymous to the page’s administrators and that they have never reported a post to psychological services.
“There have been some posts I have felt uncomfortable posting, particularly ones that sound like suicide notes,” Ty Ger wrote. “That’s probably the hardest situation for me to know how to handle, because it’s risky to post something like that on a public platform where people can comment/react so freely.”
In an effort provide support to suicidal students, Ty Ger lists the Suicide Prevention Hotline number (1-800-273-8255) and the SHARE link in the confession submission form.
“I have never reached out to OPs (Original Poster) before (aside from commenting on the actual post) because they remain anonymous,” Ty Ger wrote. “This can be distressing when someone submits something that indicates they’re in immediate danger.”
Though it prevents people from directly speaking to an OP, students feel that the anonymity of the platform has encouraged people to post about their struggles.
“The anonymity of the way certain things are posted can really allow certain people who would otherwise be uncomfortable sharing those experiences to come forward with them,” said Avner Goldstein ’21, a student who stays up-to-date with Tiger Confessions. “It’s really become a proliferation of people being honest about their challenges and thereby a lot more people being reached who share those challenges. I think for many it might be a good thing.”
Goldstein is a contributing columnist for the ‘Prince.’
Vicky Rideout, head of VJR Consulting, which researches youth and media, said that a platform like Tiger Confessions can provide a sense of empathy and connection.
“The platform itself has many qualities that are positive, and it has many qualities that have the potential to be really negative,” Rideout said. “I think one of the biggest positives for many young people in particular is being able to connect to other young people who are going through the same thing … people looking to find someone else who is experiencing the same kind of things they’re experiencing and to talk to them, to learn from their own peers — how do you handle the situation? What do you do to make yourself feel better?”
Rideout said that, in her experience, social media often served as an outlet for those struggling with mental illness.
“In my research, I found that a lot of young people who are experiencing depression are actively trying to use social media … to help them deal with their feelings in a constructive way,” she added.
Posts on Tiger Confessions express interest in improving a person’s mental health and feature users reaching out to offer support and friendship for people that might feel lonely.
“I do think it’s helpful for strangers to comment and offer to hang out,” Ty Ger wrote. “I have faith that they’re genuine offers and those gestures can make a huge difference when you’re at your lowest point.”
Grace Collins ’21, a member of the Tiger Confessions group, frequently offers guidance to OPs.
“On the one hand, it’s really unfortunate to see that this is so prevalent on our campus, that these sorts of issues plague so many of us and clearly a lot of them are going unaddressed,” she said. “But on the other hand, every time you get one of those posts, you get a slew of people, three people who have this exact mental illness, two people who link you to CPS, and one person who says they’re down to chat.”
Collins sees Tiger Confessions as a way in which students can be connected to appropriate outlets.
“Having a peer, somebody else who has experienced the same thing that you are going through and has come out the other side of it or has tools to share with you about or who can connect you to resources — that just seems like a very good thing,” Collins added.
Ty Ger agreed with Collins’s assertion.
“For me, the number of posts on mental health related issues has helped me feel less alone and ashamed … for me it has been a mostly positive outlet,” Ty Ger wrote.
However, some students believe that Tiger Confessions is not the best solution for those struggling with mental health.
“With those very serious issues, if it’s a way to vent for them and that’s the relief they can get, it’s helpful,” Jeffrey Barzach ’22 said. “However, I feel like a much more beneficial method of solving those problems would be to actually seek help, rather than posting it onto this anonymous forum, and I think the amount of relief it does provide is very minimal compared to actually seeking help.”
In addition to questions around the efficacy of Tiger Confessions as an outlet, the page led students to question why so many University students are struggling with mental illness.
“It is unfortunate and really sad and probably telling about something about this university’s culture or expectations or something that so many of us have these sorts of issues that we’re going through, but it’s also good that it’s coming out on this forum that has shown itself to be a place where people can feel supported and reach out for help,” Collins said.
Users also comment on how University students could try harder to treat people with more respect.
On Jan. 3, one user wrote: “The steady transformation of this page into one where people are comfortable sharing really important/personal issues is so beautiful and encouraging, but it’s also incredibly concerning to me … a lot of the recent, frankly scary posts on here have made me realize that I just haven’t been there enough for those close to me.”
Though the prevalence of posts about mental health might surprise some students, interviews and the persistent use of the forum show that students find Tiger Confessions to be a helpful outlet for many in the student body. However, as Ty Ger wrote, “Just know that Tiger Confessions isn’t the only option if you want to talk to someone about these things.”
The University’s Office of Communications and Counseling and Psychological Services declined to comment on Tiger Confessions.