Facebook today launched an initiative that gives users who have expressed suicidal thoughts the option to instantly connect with a crisis counselor. The program is available now and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline workers will be online 24 hours a day to talk to via Facebook Chat.
Here's how it works. If a Facebook friend spots a suicidal thought on someone's profile, that person can report it to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook will then send an e-mail to the person who posted the suicidal comment. Previously, Facebook only told troubled individuals to call a hotline or encouraged friends to call law enforcement if they perceived someone was about to do harm. Now, the social networking giant is also offering a link to a confidential Facebook Chat session with a professional.
"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 CBS News. Facebook won't be scanning the social network for suicidal expressions. Not only is this logistically too difficult given Facebook's 800 million active monthly users, but many would probably see this as a privacy violation. "The only people who will have a really good idea of what's going on is your friends so we're encouraging them to speak up and giving them an easy and quick way to get help," said Wolens.
"The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention," Lidia Bernik, associate project director of the Lifeline, said in a statement. "We've heard from many people who say they want to talk to someone but don't want to call. Instant message is perfect for that."
This is an arguably much better program than the one Facebook was testing out earlier this year. The company worked with Samaritans, a 24-hour charity that provides confidential non-judgmental emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair. The system did not offer a direct chat option, however, and required users to fill out a form with the URL of the page where the friend posted worrying messages, their full name, and details of any networks they are part of. The report would be sent through Facebook's Help Center, and only then would Samaritans be notified that expert support was needed.
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