Facebook launches suicide prevention tool for concerned friends

14 Dec 2011

Following its launch of a suicide prevention tool for Facebook users in Ireland and the UK earlier this year, Facebook has now created a similar suicide prevention tool for users in the US and Canada, especially if people are concerned about their friends’ Facebook posts.

Back in March, Facebook launched an initiative with Samaritans for Ireland and the UK. The new scheme means Facebook users in Ireland and the UK can now get help for a friend if they believe they are struggling to cope or feeling suicidal. (For more information on other online platforms in Ireland for people experiencing distressing thoughts, scroll down to the end of this article).

Currently, in Ireland and the UK, people concerned about a friend can tell Samaritans via Facebook’s Help Centre. For instance, they can report specific content, such as status updates or wall posts. Facebook will then put Samaritans in touch with the friend they are concerned about to offer support.

Taking your friends’ posts seriously

At the time of the launch in March, Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of Samaritans, said the organisation was harnessing the power of friendship on Facebook so people could get help.

“We want to remind people that if a friend says that life isn’t worth living, they should always be taken seriously. Facebook is a part of daily life for so many of us and we must make sure that people online have support when they need it,” said Johnstone.

Suicide prevention Facebook tool for Canadian and US users

Facebook has now launched the Lifeline IM Suicide Prevention System for Canadian and US users. Lifeline is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the US and Canada.

The new Facebook tool is specifically targeted at friends, who may have picked up that their friend doesn’t seem to be himself or herself. They can report what they feel could be potential suicidal behaviour by choosing the “suicidal content” under the “harmful behavior” option if they read content from a friend that appears to be a cry for help.

Currently, when a suicidal user is reported to Facebook, the website will message both the distressed user (with Lifeline’s information) and Lifeline (with the user’s email and current city) in an attempt to connect the user with help.

IM tool

But, starting from next week, Facebook says its initiative for Canadian and US users will aim to be even more effective as the social networking site will also be able to provide the distressed user both with Lifeline’s telephone number and a link to its newly launched IM system.

A Facebook representative said today the link will direct the user to a private chat room where they will be able to chat with a trained Lifeline crisis representative. 

For Canadian and US users, workers from two centres in the Lifeline network, the Boys Town National Hotline and Goodwill of the Finger Lakes, will be available 24/7 to respond to Facebook users opting to use the IM chat tool.

In the US, Lifeline responds to about 50 people each day who have expressed suicidal thoughts on Facebook.

“We’re proud to expand our partnership with Lifeline, and to provide those in crisis with even more options to seek help. The Lifeline’s commitment to suicide prevention has enabled people on Facebook to get fast, meaningful help when they need it most, and we look forward to continuing our work with them to help save lives,” said Facebook’s Joe O’Sullivan today.

And, similar to what Irish and UK users can do, Facebook users in Canada and the US can also report potential suicidal behaviour by going to Facebook’s help centre.

If a user is concerned about a particular friend and they make a formal report to Facebook, they will subsequently get an email to say Facebook is looking into the situation.

Other online forums in Ireland for people who might be distressed


SpunOut.ie ‘Healthy Mind’ section

As well as the Facebook Samaritan option in Ireland, here’s a selection of online mediums people can reach out to if they are feeling distressed, or if they know of someone else who might be experiencing challenging emotions.

These are:
Via its Healthy Mind section, Spunout.ie is directed towards young adults. It explains about mental health and directs people to specific websites that can offer support, anonymously.

While Aware holds weekly real-life meetings for people around the country, the organisation has recognised that not everyone is comfortable with talking about depression in the presence of others. It has created online support groups.

Pieta House
Pieta House, The Centre for the Prevention of Self-Harm or Suicide, has already helped nearly 4,000 people, and opened up two Outreach Centres, and two other Centres in both Dublin and Limerick. For people who live far away and who need help it can offer support via email.

Set up by Paul Kelly, Console is a national service with centres in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Athlone, Wexford and Kildare. It will soon be offering online counselling.

Samaritans provides 24-hour emotional support to anyone experiencing distress, despair or suicidal thought. You can get face-to-face counselling or telephone, email or write a letter to Samaritans.

ReachOut.com offers information on mental health issues for young people. It also provides a safe space where young people can engage with each other on issues that really affect them – from drugs and alcohol to suicide and self-harm, from exam stress to bullying.

Set up by the Inspire Ireland Foundation, ReachOut.com has a Depression section, with a lot of information for people who need help, plus it has a Help a Friend section.

Students at UCD set up the Please Talk initiative in 2007 with a view to reaching out to students at risk of suicide. The Please Talk initiative is funded by the HSE National Office of Suicide Prevention in association with ReachOut.com. It links in to each of the universities and institutes on the island of Ireland and their support services.

Set up by the HSE and Yourmentalhealth.ie, Letsomeoneknow.ie is targeted at young teens to equip them with information on mental health and to offer links to support services.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic