Facebook adds new suicide prevention feature

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Facebook added a feature to its website to address suicidal behavior among users.

Users will now have the option to report a post they see on Facebook if it seems that the person who wrote it is thinking about self-harm or suicide. Reporting a post gives a user the option to reach out to the person who posted it, contact another friend for help or ask Facebook to contact the user.

Users do not have to be Facebook friends with the person whose post they report for the feature to work. 

Although the new Facebook feature could be useful, a conversation offline could be more helpful, said Marian Trattner, who works at the Counseling and Mental Health Center.

“Two-thirds of students who disclose thoughts of suicide first tell a friend, a partner or a family member before they come through our doors,” Trattner said. “Oftentimes, just by being open to having that conversation can help your friend get the help that they need. I think [the new Facebook feature] is one healthy way to reach out for help because I know that students are more comfortable communicating in this manner.”

Students are spending an increasing amount of time on social media, making it a more typical platform to post self-threatening comments, according to Robert Quigley, senior lecturer in the Moody College of Communication. 

“Every aspect of [students’] lives are documented in some way, so it shouldn’t be surprising that posts about self-harm or suicide would also be there for those who feel lost,”
Quigley said.

The reason people post upsetting statuses or photos on social media might be because they feel as if it is their last resort, according to psychology freshman Tim Dufrene, who said he thinks the new feature will be beneficial.

“It shows that the company cares about the well-being of their users,” Dufrene said. “Although it might seem very small, just knowing that someone cares enough about you to reach out to you and help you is something that can really improve the self-worth of someone at risk for suicide.”

Facebook is a leader in terms of social media and suicide prevention, Trattner said, and she hopes more websites will tackle this issue.

“I hope additional social media sites follow Facebook’s lead and build in safety centers in their sites or make their sites to be more proactive,” Trattner said.