If you’re one of Facebook’s 800 million or so users and you happen to be struggling with depression, there is new hope. Facebook has launched a program this December that instantly connects users who may be suicidal with crisis counselors through its ‘chat’ messaging system.
This announcement is only the latest in a series of initiatives that Facebook has been spearheading lately which appear to take user safety more seriously than ever.
The site has been criticized in the past for not devoting enough of its resources toward these issues, considering the astonishing number of users it has.
“One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible,” Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook, told The Associated Press.
Companies like Google and Yahoo! have traditionally provided the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Line as the first result when users googled the word ‘suicide’.
In the past, even Facebook would email users and direct them to the hotline if it seemed like they were about to harm themselves. It even encouraged friends of the user to contact law enforcement if the situation appeared grave enough.
But this latest approach to the problem is less removed. According to The Associated Press, “How the service works is if a friend spots a suicidal thought on someone’s page, he can report it to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook then sends an email to the person who posted the suicidal comment encouraging them to call the hotline or click on a link to begin a confidential chat.”
Facebook isn’t trolling its own site for suicidal expressions–the issue is far too sensitive to hand over to a computer algorithm–but is instead depending on friends to help identify those who may require professional help.
The Associated Press reports that in July, police in Pennsylvania said they believed they were able to help prevent a man’s suicide after his friend alerted them to a disturbing Facebook post he wrote. Police met with the man, who was then committed to a hospital. And that is only one of countless stories just like it.
The fact that Facebook has set up this ‘Lifeline’ service is good news for all users. Especially parents of the many children who are cyberbullied online every day. It is reassuring to learn of a program that will help mitigate a problem Facebook and other social media sites had a hand in creating, however unintentionally.
Talk To Us! Do you feel that Facebook’s Lifeline initiative should be emulated by other web giants like Google and Yahoo!?