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Suicide Prevention Takes Social Media Turn

The internet has become a popular tool for researching information, doing business, and staying in touch with loved ones. But despite its popularity and convenience, some still have their doubts that the internet contributes to society in any meaningful way. But a recently-launched internet tool may serve to alter that perspective.

The Surgeon General of the United States reports that each day, about 100 individuals in America die due to suicide. And it is estimated that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged between 14 and 25 in the U.S. Serious thoughts of suicide affected over eight million Americans over eighteen during the past year alone.

Facebook announced on December 14, 2011 that it would be launching a new suicide prevention tool which would allow troubled users to link directly to a counsellor via online chat. But the tool doesn’t only assist those contemplating suicide; it also provides their friends with the opportunity to help.

Previously, options were available on the social networking platform to choose certain options to report content, such as offensive or spam. But now, a new addition called “suicidal content” has been added to the range of options. This is accessible via clicking on the “harmful behaviour” option.

If the friend of a suicidal user reports a post or other content by that friend, the individual in need of help will receive an email containing a link to a private online chat with a crisis counsellor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The email will also contain that organization’s phone number.

Friends who have reported harmful behaviour will also be notified by email to let them know that the issue is being addressed. In addition, they can also visit Facebook’s Help Center for more information about suicide, including links to external sites which provide additional resources.

In providing someone in need to connect with help on the internet, it is hoped that they will be more likely to seek assistance, as some may not be comfortable talking on the phone. Facebook spokesman Frederic Wolens says that the new tool is something that’s been in development for some time.

Facebook users both in the United States and Canada will have access to the suicide reporting tool. Any and all reporting of this nature is done anonymously so that the user in need will not know who has reported possible distress, which  can be a crucial element of suicide prevention strategy.

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