Promoting Hope, Preventing Suicide

Research and advice on preventing teen and adult suicide

Preventing Suicide Among Our Troops — on Facebook

Facebook takes on military suicide prevention.

Each week I think, “There must be something to write about suicide prevention that doesn’t have anything to do with Facebook.”

But, I’m shown time and time again that the social network is so ubiquitous that it’s virtually impossible to minimize its influence.

Last week, Facebook announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Blue Star Families to offer a suicide prevention service specifically for active-duty military, veterans, and their families.

What’s good about this new service?

  • It’s grounded in research. Blue Star Families advocated for this service after surveying military families. What did they find? The majority of family members who recognized signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in their loved ones did not seek help. And, both members of the military and their families have considered suicide.
  • It maximizes existing resources, rather than duplicating services. The partnership will connect existing resources for military and their families, such as the Veterans Crisis Line, creating a one-stop-shop via Facebook.
  • It meets people where they are already spending time. My friends who are service members or partners of service members use Facebook to connect with their loved ones and fellow military families. It is described as a “lifeline” by some military family members.

What will I be looking for as this service launches?

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  • Streamlined, easy-to-use technology. Facebook’s existing suicide prevention resources can be a little clunky. Let’s make it easy for people to help themselves and their loved ones.
  • Staffing and support by people who know what it’s like to be part of a military family. Partnerships are great when the organizations involved can do what they do best. Connecting a media giant, a federal agency, and an organization that specializes in working with military families is great - if the lessons learned from the experts in military families are used to make the service work best for them.
  • Opportunities to evaluate how it’s working. Not just to find out “has suicide been prevented?” but are military families connecting differently to existing resources? Are they utilizing crisis services more effectively than before? Do they feel like they have better access?

I’d love to hear from military families about how you think this new service may be helpful. For now, I’m hopeful that this will be an example of social media for social good.

Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Brittany E. Jones/USMC

Elana Premack Sandler, L.C.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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