Two days before Thanksgiving this year, I lost a good friend. Mike posted a goodbye message on his Facebook wall, went out in the backyard and committed suicide. Those of us who saw his post just after he wrote it scrambled to try and contact him and contact police to try to intervene, and felt pretty helpless when our efforts failed. Today, Facebook is rolling out a new tool that aims to make it easier to get help to people who are expressing suicidal thoughts.
Users having suicidal thoughts can now instantly connect with a crisis counselor through the instant chat system. The primary goal is to get the person thinking about suicide into the right channel that can help as soon as possible
“The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention,” said Lidia Bernik, associate project 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.”
Now, of course, Facebook doesn’t actively search through comments for “suicide” and alert the counselors, that would be a little too “Big Brother”, not to mention logistically impossible and easy for software to misinterpret. The tools are essentially given to the person’s friends who know him/her best – here’s how it works.
If you see a friend post a suicidal thought, you can alert Facebook to it by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook would then send an email to the person encouraging them to call the suicide prevention hotline or click a link in the email to be instantly connected by chat. Lifeline currently staffs counselors 24-hours a day for chat, and responds to dozens of Facebook users each day.
I don’t know if this would have helped my friend, he was in a space where he didn’t allow anyone to help him. But, you never know – an email from Facebook right before he logged out might have made him stop for a minute, even to just say “What the hell?”, which might have been enough to make him rethink things. I commend Facebook for the efforts, and giving us the tools to help protect our friends.