THE BLOG
09/10/2014 08:19 am ET Updated Nov 10, 2014

'Help a Friend in Need' -- Can Social Media Help Promote Mental Health and Prevent Suicide?

In this highly-connected world, we all have a responsibility to care not only for ourselves but also to help those to whom we are close. We can learn the signs of emotional distress and how these signs might appear on social media. We also need to know what steps to take to get needed help. You don't need to be an expert to make a difference!

The Jed Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Facebook and Instagram are working together to use social media to accomplish this goal.

Here's how:

The Problem

Anxiety and depression are common in teens and young adults. Even more troubling, suicidal thoughts and behaviors are also common among adolescents, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-34.

What can you do about this?

The Opportunity

A strong sense of social connectedness can be protective against mental illness and even suicide. And we also know that steps taken to help identify those at risk for or experiencing serious emotional distress or suicidal thoughts and helping those people reach out for and get help can lower risk.

The vast majority of adolescents and young adults in the U.S. use some social mediaand countless more are on social media worldwide. With this in mind, Facebook and Instagram have recently partnered with The Jed Foundation -- a non-profit dedicated to promoting mental health and preventing suicide among college students and young people -- and the Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative -- dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people throughout the U.S. and the world -- to develop an online guide called "Help a Friend in Need." This guide, which is available on Facebook and Instagram, provides guidance for young people in identifying what emotional distress would look like online and gives suggestions for how to help yourself or your friend if you are worried that something may be wrong. The goal in developing this guide has been to create a resource that is clear, easy to use and communicates that you don't need to be a mental health expert to have a sense or feeling that you or a friend might be having trouble and there are things to do that can help. Facebook has worked with local partners in several other countries to translate and adapt this guide for use with non-U.S.-based Facebook users. It is being translated into more than 20 languages!

We can talk about emotional problems and connect in ways that are helpful. This guide on Facebook and Instagram helps to convey that we can be connected in ways that are supportive and that social media can play a positive role in educating young people about mental health, help-seeking and in diminishing stigma. All of this further helps lower risk for young people.

How can you help?

We believe that most of us have an intuitive sense when we or someone close to us might be struggling. If you have a stomach ache that is worse than ones you usually get, if it is lasting too long or getting worse, you would probably call your doctor or go to the hospital. Same is true of emotional pain. If anxiety or depression are severe enough to disturb functioning (sleep, eating, work/school, self-care) or are getting worse or are leading to thoughts or impulses of self-harm, it is time for help. If your friend is posting emojis, pictures or comments that are unusually bleak or dark, don't ignore it. Have a conversation. If you have a gut feeling something may be wrong, don't ignore it. Use the guide to find out what to do.

There are parents, family members, teachers, counselors, clergy members, counselors, doctors and therapists who can help.

We urge you to use this guide if and when you are concerned about yourself or a friend and we urge you to reach out for help if you need it.

So, on Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, we should acknowledge the good work and social responsibility of Facebook and Instagram and recognize one of the underlying messages of social media: We are all connected and can all act to support and care for one another.

If you need help right now: Call "911" or your local emergency number if you are in crisis, or call the National Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK(8255) in the USA.

To learn more about The Jed Foundation, visit us at: www.jedfoundation.org.

Follow us on Twitter @jedfoundation.

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Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.