Facebook as a Lifeline

Facebook and Lifeline’s partnership to help prevent suicide

Posted Dec 14, 2011

For a little while, I thought I might be dreaming. My Facebook news feed was full of links to a story about Facebook.

But, it wasn't a dream. Better yet, the story was some seriously good news: Now Facebook users in suicidal crisis can chat instantly with a certified crisis counselor - via Facebook.

This new development, a product of an expanded partnership between Facebook and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, is a great example of using social media for social good.

If there is any indicator of the potential success of this initiative, it is the buzz and response on Facebook itself. When this story broke yesterday, all the major suicide prevention organizations posted links on their Facebook walls. Facebook Safety, the profile page where information about how to report unsafe content on Facebook is housed, ran a statement from the U.S. Surgeon General. As of this afternoon, that post had over 740 likes and 72 comments.   

Of the many comments on Facebook Safety's profile, one made me laugh out loud. (Or, in Facebook parlance, LOL). It was this one: "The more you are on FB, the more you will need this. Get off the computer and hug something."

I love that sentiment - get off the computer and hug something. But, I also know that many people find themselves isolated in their worst moments of crisis. That many go on Facebook as a way to reach out, beyond Facebook or any other medium, to real people. For many, Facebook is a lifeline.

I also know, from personal experience, that Facebook is, increasingly, the way that we are connected to other people. It's our Rolodex, from our entire lives. As someone very "out" about being involved in suicide prevention, Facebook is how I hear from friends and contacts all over the world that they or someone they love is in crisis.

Now I - and you, too - have a direct way to connect people with help and support.

Just by clicking to the right of a post, you can report the post as harmful. (Click here for a complete explanation and to see what it looks like on Facebook.)

After you report the post, your friend will get an e-mail with the Lifeline number as well as an option to click directly though to chat online with a crisis counselor.

Because this new feature is building on an existing design, it's not perfect. But, at least for this week, I'm going to go with "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." (Thanks, Voltaire.) Next week, I may feel a bit differently.

Just a caveat: Right now, this service is only available for residents of the U.S. and Canada. (If you're not in one of those areas, get on Facebook and let them know if you'd like to find a way to expand this service to your region!)

Copyright 2011 Elana Premack Sandler, All Rights Reserved