Facebook Provides New Suicide Prevention Service

Facebook and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline released a new suicide prevention service this week. The two have worked together since 2006 to assist suicidal Facebook users, but the new initiative takes intervention a step further by offering users the option of participating in a secure chat with a professional.

More than 36 thousand deaths occurred from suicide in the United States in 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National organizations like Lifeline, a 24-hour toll-free confidential hotline, provide services to help prevent these deaths.

The joint service with Facebook allows users to flag online activity as having suicidal content. In the past, this report would go to a crisis counselor who would then email the user who posted the content. Now a messaged is sent directly to that person via Facebook, and they’re encouraged to either call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or to enter a confidential chat session with the counselor.

“The intent is to meet people where they are and to offer them a service in the medium they’re most comfortable,” said Lidia Bernik, Associate Project Director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “Our hope is, in using this system, we’ll engage more of the users.”

The service also benefits those who might not be in immediate danger but are likely suffering from depression. They can click on certain comments and send their friend a link with a message that says, “I am concerned about your well-being. You should check out Facebook’s Help Center for resources.”

Bernik said Facebook is a good partner for Lifeline to work with on suicide prevention because they have a huge user base and because many people naturally seem to want to share their feelings and emotions on the site. Also, others are constantly monitoring these regular postings.

“We recognize that we not only have a tremendous corporate responsibility to look after our distressed users but also an unprecedented opportunity to help those in crisis,” Facebook said in a statement.

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