Facebook Launches Suicide Prevention Initiative

The social networking behemoth today announced the launch of a program initiative that aims to instantly aid users who are expressing suicidal thoughts.

The social networking behemoth today announced the launch of a program initiative that aims to instantly aid users who are expressing suicidal thoughts.

One of the many ways in which Facebook allows its 800 million users to connect is through their chat functionality. This chat feature will be the foundation of Facebook’s suicide prevention program.

Here is how the program works: if the friend or family member of a particular user spots a message or update by that person that suggests suicidal tendencies or thoughts, they can immediately click a link next to the comment to report it to Facebook. At that point, Facebook administrators can send the user an email encouraging them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or to click a link to begin a confidential chat with a representative.

Facebook does not use algorithms or bots to seek out alarming posts on its own, so this program relies on the network of at-risk individuals to be proactive and vigilant. The new Facebook program piggybacks on a program that Google and Yahoo! initiated some time ago in which users who search for “suicide” are presented with the aforementioned Lifeline number.

This new program adds to a list of recent forays into the health care arena for Facebook. Earlier this year, the social networking site partnered with Time Warner to initiate an anti-bullying campaign and, last October, the organization teamed up with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to reduce the amount of hate speech and anti-gay remarks that were taking place on various high-profile forums and websites throughout the Internet.

With such a vast number of registrants and active users, Facebook is one of the most ideal platforms for bringing such an initiative to the masses. And when considering just how effective early intervention can be for suicidal individuals, it makes sense to provide this patient population and their network with tools to quickly take action.

"The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention," said Lidia Bernik, associate director of Lifeline. "We've heard from many people who say they want to talk to someone but don't want to call. Instant message is perfect for that."

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Facebook Aims to Prevent Suicide [Associated Press]