In February, Facebook announced that it was rolling out a suicide prevention feature. Although the social media platform has given users the option to report suicidal content since 2011, this new feature makes that process easier and provides those struggling with thoughts of self harm with a number of options for taking action.
Here's how it works: Upon seeing any comments from a friend implying self harm, users are given the option to contact their Facebook friend, another friend or a suicide helpline. From there, the person will be notified that a friend is concerned about them and asked if they'd like to call a friend or message a suicide prevention expert.
Facebook also provides videos about people who have had suicidal thoughts, provides a list of relaxation techniques and offers to help find a self-care expert.
The social media site partnered with a number of suicide prevention networks for this feature including Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Save.org and Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention.
As of now, the feature is available to about half of Facebook users.
"The updated resources are currently available to 50 percent of people who use Facebook in the U.S.," Facebook rep Andrew Souvall told The Huffington Post. "We hope to expand to all Facebook users in the U.S. in the coming months."
Here's a sample of what it looks like:
There's no question that Facebook's feature is a good one and sheds light on the ever-evolving conversation about mental illness. But will it actually help prevent suicide?
Gregory W. Dalack, MD, who works at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, said that because the feature is so new, it's hard to know what kind of impact Facebook is actually having on suicide prevention -- but it's a good place to start.
"If this initiative helps even one person take a different course than ending his or her life, it will be important and meaningful," Dalack told HuffPost. "Resources and support are available to help those struggling and in desperate distress. Kudos to Facebook for taking this step to facilitate connections to those resources."
Cheryl King, another doctor at the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, is happy to see such a powerful social media platform taking this kind of action.
“The Facebook initiative is a timely step forward for suicide prevention efforts. By linking suicide prevention education and expertise with Facebook, we greatly expand our opportunities for recognizing people at risk for suicide," she explained. "A timely and caring response may lower risk enough to save a life, providing time for the resolution of current stressors and the opportunity to get professional help.”
The takeaway? Even if Facebook isn't having an overwhelming impact on suicide prevention, its new feature is certainly a step in the right direction.
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
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