The Astor Blog

Suicide Prevention via Facebook

Suicide Awareness is Key to Saving Lives

An increasing amount of our
communication is now
happening via social media

One of the most powerful tools for helping to prevent suicide is something every one of us can provide: being sensitive to signs that someone we know may be suffering from suicidal thoughts and not being afraid to reach out to them and provide support and resources.

In the past, this was most likely to happen during face-to-face conversations or over the phone. Of course, the times have very much changed.

An increasing amount of our communication with family, friends, and acquaintances is now happening online via social networking sites.

Sad manThe downside to this type of communication is that it can feel less personal and more distanced. It can be more difficult to understand what the other person is trying to communicate without nonverbal hints like body language and their tone of voice.

However, there is an upside too. Communicating online allows us to reach more people and, because we are often typing privately, we sometimes feel freer to share thoughts and feelings we would not otherwise share. This may be especially true for those suffering from depression, who may be limiting social activities that involve leaving home.

Therefore, with the increase in social networking, there has naturally been an increase in people sharing suicidal thoughts and signs on sites such as Facebook.

Facebook Being Proactive in the Fight against Suicide

An increase in
people sharing suicidal
thoughts and signs on
sites like Facebook

In response to this, Facebook collaborated with several nationally known suicide prevention groups (e.g., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) to create a new way for users to reach out to a Facebook friend whose post may indicate suicidal thoughts.

By clicking on the top right arrow above the post and clicking on the “Report Post” option, you can alert Facebook, who will immediately give you options to contact the friend, contact a different friend for support, or contact a suicide helpline.

Sad woman depressionOn their end, Facebook will examine the post to make their own determination and then follow-up with private messages to the person in seeming distress offering various types of support.

These types of support include connecting the person with a suicide helpline, providing tips for coping with suicidal thoughts, and connecting the person with friends on Facebook so s/he can seek out support.

Click on the “Report Post”
option to alert Facebook
to danger signs

For users judged to be at immediate high risk for suicidal behaviors, Facebook may contact local resources and authorities to seek out and provide help to these individuals within their communities.

There have been backlashes to previous efforts by other sites, such as Twitter and Reddit, to recognize and respond to potentially suicidal users. Some characterized those efforts as invasive and a breach of privacy.

Facebook may contact local
resources to provide help

Its users will judge Facebook’s latest effort. Nevertheless, no matter the ultimate judgement, Facebook deserves credit for teaming with recognized experts and dedicating staff and resources on an ongoing basis to aid suicide prevention. Now it is our turn to collaborate with Facebook in providing sufferers from suicidal thoughts with one of the most powerful suicide prevention tools of all: ourselves.

Get help 24/7 at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255; www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

 

*Some of the information for this blog was gathered from articles in various news outlets, including the New York Times, NPR News, and BBC News.