When it comes to suicide, everyone seems to say the same thing: They had no idea the person was feeling so bad. But almost everyone can name at least one time a friend posted something concerning on Facebook, whether it be threatening suicide, entertaining the thoughts, talking about hurting oneself or even just a cryptic post about giving up. Soon, when you see such a post on your timeline you’ll be able to help in a meaningful and safe way, because on Feb. 26 Facebook announced its new measures to help aid in suicide prevention.
To be fair, Facebook has had suicide prevention resources available since 2008 consisting of employees on call to respond to flagged posts, but these tools never incorporated support from organizations trained to help people who may be going through crisis. On Wednesday, Facebook announced that it’s new tools will operate with the help of Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention which is based out of the University of Washington’s School of Social Work. Forefront is partnering with Facebook to provide resources, support and advice for people struggling with suicidal thoughts who may not otherwise know how to find help.
Social support and avoiding isolation are important factors in suicide prevention and Facebook’s new tools utilize these aspects. When you see a post that concerns you, you’ll have the ability to flag it as “harmful, threatening or suicidal.” From there Facebook will ask you for more details and advise that if someone is in immediate danger that you call 911 right away. If the threat isn’t serious enough to warrant calling emergency services, Facebook will let you choose if you want to message the person yourself about your concerns, ask a closer friend of the person to reach out or even ask Facebook to check on the person for you.
Since most people don’t know how to approach the subject Facebook offers tips on handling negative thoughts, alternative solutions for dealing with stress and even stories from people who have also been suicidal and how they got the feelings under control. After these tips, Facebook will prompt the person to talk to someone with two options: Talking to a friend or talking to someone at a helpline.
Rob Boyle, a product manager at Facebook said that because Facebook is a communication tool they wanted to play up their strengths to tackle this issue. Boyle went on to say “When someone reaches out, we can say, ‘OK, here are your 10 closest friends,’ or ‘Here’s the phone number of someone who can help’ — because we have that information.”