Instagram’s unpaid lifeguard

Scrolling through the Instagram feed on her phone, 22-year-old Ingebjørg Blindheim explains why she has been given the nickname “the lifeguard”.

“I see a lot of people who want to die,” explains the young Norwegian.

“I’m not just going to watch someone saying they’re going to kill themselves and ignore it and hope for the best.”

Intervening to help suicidal Instagram users is not a role Ingebjørg would have chosen for herself. She doesn’t work for the social media site, and she isn’t paid for what she does. Nor is she formally qualified to offer help, having received no training in mental healthcare. Instead she feels compelled to act, realising she’s often the last chance of help for those posting their despair online.

“I feel like when I’m not on the phone watching, people might do something to themselves and no-one will see,” she says.

This means monitoring Instagram constantly, identifying those who are close to the edge and alerting the police and ambulance services. She admits to having sleepless nights. She knows that being so distracted by her phone can anger her family and friends, but she worries that without her vigilance, someone might die.

“It goes bad, because it has done before,” she says.

Ingebjørg is currently keeping track of around 450 private Instagram accounts – ones that need approval from their owners before you are allowed to follow them. Most of these belong to young women who post about their darkest feelings, though there are a few boys as well. It’s a secretive world of private thoughts, images and confessions, governed by an unwritten “no snitching” rule.

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