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Facebook’s Latest Safety Initiative Helps Prevent Suicide

How would you react if someone you knew posted on Facebook and said they weren’t sure if life was still worth living? Would you know what to do if a friend’s status suggested they were feeling suicidal? Facebook has been collaborating with suicide prevention organizations for more than a decade to identify users at risk for suicide and to provide them with crisis resources. Their most recent initiative is a suicide safety tool, which empowers users to go beyond simply offering a crisis hotline or chat number. Facebook users can now have a direct impact in facilitating emotional support and outreach for a friend in need. Facebook believes that personal notes of concern with links to a range of crisis options will save even more lives.

Friends who post statuses, pictures, or comments that reflect the following themes might be depressed or in considerable emotional pain:

  • Feeling alone, hopeless, isolated, useless, or “a burden” to others
  • Irritability and hostility that is out of character
  • Impulsive or risky behaviors that are out of character
  • Difficulties sleeping, eating, or enjoying life
  • Withdrawal from everyday activities
  • Frequent use of negative emoticons
  • Use of concerning hashtags, including those that reference self-harm, heartbreak or appearance like #cutting, #brokenheart, or #feelingugly

For more information on each of these themes, check out this handy guide.

If a friend is in immediate danger, call 911. If there is no evidence of immediate risk, you can choose to reach out directly or to a mutual friend by writing your own message or using Facebook’s suggested wording. There is also an option to speak to someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in order to help support your troubled friend.

If a friend’s post refers to suicide or suggests they are considering ending his or her life directly or indirectly, you can use Facebook’s latest safety feature by clicking on this link, or by following these steps:

  • Click the drop-down arrow in the upper right corner of the post and select, “Report Post.”
  • Choose, “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook.”
  • Then select, “It’s threatening, violent, or suicidal.”
  • Choose, “Self-injury or suicide” for a list of action options.

If you are concerned but not sure whether someone’s post warrants a response, you can ask Facebook to investigate a post. Your information will remain confidential. Posts that are user-identified as suicidal or self-harming are flagged by Facebook’s team and checked more quickly than others.

In the event that one of your posts contains distressing content and is reported by a friend or family member, a list of options will pop up on your screen the next time you visit the platform. You’ll be able to choose an offer of assistance from Facebook, the option to message a friend, contact a support service, tips and support to work through a difficult situation, or to reach out for professional help. You can also choose to skip all of the options if you are not in distress or you believe an error was made; you’ll be redirected to your news feed immediately.

Suicide rates in the United States are at a 30-year high. John Draper, Executive Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline says that, “One of the best ways to prevent suicides is to promote caring connections between people.” That’s where Facebook comes in, and they’re leading the pack on helping to keep their users safe and Instagram has recently followed suit. Visit the Facebook safety page for more information and more initiatives.

If you or your child need immediate help due to having suicidal thoughts, go to your local emergency room immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

For more information on Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Behavioral Health services, click here or listen to our PediaCast.

John Ackerman, PhD
John Ackerman, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Behavioral Health and Suicide Prevention Coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research (CSPR) at Nationwide Children's Hospital. He directs community, school, and hospital efforts to educate others about the risks and warning signs of pediatric suicide. Dr. Ackerman has contributed to ongoing investigations at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's regarding risk factors for adolescent suicide. He is also interested in how social media can contribute to suicide prevention.

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