Facebook has launched a new anti-suicide initiative that puts those thinking of ending their lives in touch with someone via instant chat, something experts claim can make all the difference.
In the past, like Google and Yahoo who list a suicide prevention phone number in search results when looking up "suicide," Facebook directed users to a helpline and encouraged friends to get in contact with the police if it was thought a person might do themselves or others harm. This new system though takes things a step further.
"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," said Lidia Bernik of harm reduction organisation Lifeline.
Now, if a Facebook user spots a friend's status or comment that suggests they may be at risk, that user can then highlight the post and report it to Facebook. The social network then emails the potentially suicidal individual, giving them the phone number for a helpline as well as linking them to an instant chat session with a counsellor.
It has been suggested that this process could be done automatically, but with over 800 million users at this point and billions of messages being posted every day, it would be difficult for a computer algorithm to accurately interpret messages. Sarcasm or irony could be easily misconstrued, so the social network went with the people that know each other best: "friends."
"The only people who will have a really good idea of what's going on is your friends so we're encouraging them to speak up and giving them an easy and quick way to get help," said Facebook public policy manager Fred Wolens.
Much of the discussion about suicide has been about improving the response time from those that can help. "One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible,"continued Wollens. He was backed up by Lidia Bernik, who believes that the sooner those at risk of killing themselves can get in touch with someone who cares, the quicker and more drastic the reduction in suicidal thoughts.
But, what happens after the initial talk with those in trouble? Depending on the situation, referrals can be made, as well as advice on where to seek further support. Much of the problem with suicide is getting the issue out in the open as mental health is a subject many people simply don't want to discuss.
Despite this, there is plenty of help and advice available for those that want it. U.S Surgeon General Regina Benjamin released a statement, saying that her office hoped with measures like this, they could help reduce the suicide rate across the world. "Facebook and Lifeline are to be commended for addressing one of this nation's most tragic public health problems," she said.
The most important part of this move by Facebook is its blanket approach. Nobody is considered beyond saving and everyone is thought to be worth saving.This is an important aspect of suicide prevention as many of those at risk consider themselves worthless - this couldn't be further from the truth.