“The world is a great place, but I don’t fit in.”
“Death is beautiful.”
“There is no way out.”
“I am done.”
The seemingly unrelated statements have a thread in common. If these are status updates on social networking sites, chances are the individuals posting them could be potentially suicidal, feel mental health experts.
It has been increasingly seen that a person who committed suicide, tried to convey something to virtual friends through status messages before taking the extreme step. A little alertness on part of the social media users, hence, can help save many lives.
At Facebook, an initiative has been taken in this direction for its 1.65-billion strong community. The social networking site launched the feature in India Tuesday, introducing updated tools and educational resources to help support people who may be struggling with self-injury or experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Developed in collaboration with mental health organisations, and with inputs from people who have had personal experience with self-injury and suicide, these tools will be in English and Hindi. Facebook has AASRA and the Live Love Laugh Foundation as its local partners in India.
If a post by someone makes you concerned about the well-being of the person, you can now reach out to them directly, and discreetly, on Facebook and also ‘report’ the post.
“We have teams working around the world, 24/7, who review reports that come in. They prioritise the most serious reports like self-injury and send help and resources to those in distress,” says Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director, Facebook – India, South & Central Asia.
While Facebook already had a feature since 2011 to report potentially suicidal content, the updated tools promise to provide critical resources for the person in need, and also for their concerned friends and family.
Until now, one had to seek out Facebook’s suicide prevention page and upload a screenshot or URL of the post. But now, this support will be built directly into the posts. “These updates bring the latest experience—the expanded options to reach out to a friend, contact a helpline, or see tips—to everyone around the world,” says Das.
The feature, which works on both desktop and mobile, was launched in the US in early 2015, and then rolled out in Australia, New Zealand and the UK later that year.
“Depending on which country someone is located in, over 50 organisations providing local services are available in the new experience and we will continue to add new organisations as they become available. We worked with mental health organisations including Forefront, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Save.org, Samaritans, and others on these updates, in addition to consulting with people with real-life experience with self-injury or suicide. Today, we are rolling them out in India in collaboration with local partners AASRA and The Live Love Laugh Foundation in English and Hindi,” says Das.
Once a post is flagged, the checkpoint begins by asking “can we help?” and lets the person know that “Someone who saw your post thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you want support, we’d like to help”.
The users are then offered the options to message or call someone they trust, contact a helpline to share their problems, or seek self-help advice from resources and get tips on how they can work through these feelings. The individual can skip the entire process and go back to the news feed if the concern is unfounded.
Vulnerable users will be encouraged to connect to the AASRA India helpline or the Live Love Laugh Foundation. Facebook claims to have created all these resources in conjunction with its clinical and academic partners.
Realising the need for friends and well-wishers to identify potentially suicidal content, Facebook is also introducing a “Help A Friend in Need” guide, which was originally created in partnership with The Jed Foundation and The Clinton Foundation in the US.
“In India, we worked with AASRA, a charity that provides anonymous and confidential professional counselling to people in India, and The Live Love Laugh Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to addressing the issue of mental health in India, to share potential warning signs that a friend might be in emotional distress and need your help,” says Das.
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The guide helps people identify when someone is distressed and what steps to take to get help. It also offers suggestions on how to approach their friend, what to say, how to react and what to avoid. It aims to give people the skills to reach out without the fear of making the situation worse. The guide will be available in English, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and Marathi.
The reporting tool can be found by clicking “Report post”. You will be asked a set of specific questions that will lead you to the option to indicate that you think the person may harm themselves. You will then be advised on what to do next.
Anonymity is a key feature as Facebook promises to keep your details confidential. When your request is submitted, you can see the status of your report in Support Inbox.
Mental health experts emphasise that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress. “Everyone who is equipped with the right information and resources on depression can make an important difference,” says Anna Chandy, chairperson of the Live Love Laugh Foundation.
At the same time, Das adds, friends and family often want to offer support, but don’t know how best to reach out. “Our tools aim to provide resources to both the person in distress and the friends and family who want to help,” she says.
These tools will be launched throughout India and able to help any distressed person among Facebook’s 148 million users in the country. “As soon as anyone reports a self-injuring or suicidal post, a team will review that report and send that person the resources,” claims Facebook.
Speaking about the collaboration, Chandy says it is “absolutely imperative” for multiple stakeholders to come together to roll out collaborative initiatives such as this one.
“The Live Love Laugh Foundation has worked collaboratively with other partners on the Friend in Need guide. We look forward to equipping those facing mental health challenges with the right information and resources to face the battle that they or their loved ones may be facing,” she says.
Deepika Padukone, founder of the Live Love Laugh Foundation, says, “The rate of suicide amongst the youth in India is one of the highest in the world. We are happy to partner with Facebook in this suicide prevention initiative. It is especially important to reach out to young people out there who are feeling depressed and encourage them to reach out for help.”
Johnson Thomas, director, AASRA, says, “AASRA has been working with Facebook for several years to help people who are having suicidal thoughts. Facebook’s new tool is another step forward in helping to prevent suicide.”
Twitter also concerned about user safety
Microblogging site Twitter too has a help centre that deals with self-harm and suicide.
After assessing a report of self-harm or suicide, Twitter contacts the reported user and lets him or her know that someone who cares about them identified that they might be at risk. “We will provide the reported user with available online and hotline resources and encourage them to seek help,” Twitter says on its Help Center page.
The page tells users to judge potential warning signs from posts talking of depression, death, suicide attempts or self-harm and encourage the person to seek professional help. You can alert Twitter if you don’t know the person involved, or refer him or her to a counsellor, a suicide hotline, or someone who might know them better.
The microblogging website also let users get in touch with mental health partners in 16 countries. However, the list does not have a partner in India at present.