Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Facebook’s foray into suicide prevention

Big questions after the first week

Last week, I wrote about Facebook's foray into suicide prevention.

Through a partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Facebook now allows users to report status updates that may be expressing suicidality.

More importantly, at least in my opinion, Facebook will send a message to users expressing suicidal thoughts with the Lifeline number and a direct link to chat with a crisis counselor online.

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This announcement has generated some great questions, many of which I'm not sure would be asked by mainstream media or a lay audience if not for Facebook's involvement with this partnership:

1. What is a suicidal thought?

Researchers have been asking this question for years, but I didn't imagine that USA Today would help focus America on answers.

2. What is a friend's responsibility to "report" a friend's expression of suicidal thinking?

As a Globe and Mail article said: "Should you alert officials if a co-worker's status update expresses frustration with life after an especially hard week? Or when a friend writes about feeling depressed for no reason?"

3. Does an intervention like this one work? Will throwing each starfish back into the ocean make an impact on suicide as a public health issue?

Perhaps one of the central questions in the field of suicide prevention, I'm glad to see it being asked on a more public scale. Can there be a public health impact with this kind of initiative? Is it enough to help one person at a time?

4. What about ongoing resources?

Again, a big question, and a critical one. It's good - if not great - to connect someone struggling with suicidal thoughts to a crisis counselor. But, what if there are few resources for them to connect with in their community after that conversation ends? In particular, I think of teens affected by the ongoing shortage of child psychiatrists, or people living in isolated areas where there are few health care providers in general.  

I'm left thinking that what's come out of the first week of this initiative, in addition to a new way for people to connect with a crisis resource, is a lot of attention directed toward how to prevent suicide. From more media coverage of what a friend might say if he or she is thinking about suicide to dialogue about the need for more and better mental health care resources in communities, a very un-comprehensive approach to suicide prevention has inspired a lot of talk about what a comprehensive approach should look like.

It wouldn't be the first time a Facebook feature changed the way people think and communicate.

 

 

Elana Premack Sandler, M.S.W., M.P.H., is a public health social worker specializing in violence and injury prevention and adolescent health promotion.

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