Yesterday, Facebook announced that they were launching a new suicide prevention program, enabling users to instantly connect with crisis counselors through their Facebook chat. Suicidal teens won't only have to rely on Mountain Dew anymore.
If a friend spots a suicidal message on someone’s page, they can report it to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook then sends an email to the person who posted the suicidal comment encouraging them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or click on a link to begin a confidential chat. Facebook public policy manager Fred Wolens acknowledged that Facebook doesn't monitor for suicidal expressions, so it's vital that friends watch out for each other: “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."
The instantaneous ability to talk with someone makes a huge difference for many young people considering suicide, according to Lidia Bernik, associate project director of the Lifeline: “The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention. 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.”
Incidents in which people have posted suicidal notes on Facebook before acting are far from uncommon: earlier this year, a 25-year-old Newburgh mother who drowned herself and three of her children posted a message on her Facebook page right before she drove her minivan into the Hudson River. Last year, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi wrote on his Facebook page, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry," before committing suicide.
Last month, a Californian man posted a suicide note on Facebook before he killed his wife and in-laws then himself. In July, Pennsylvania police said they believed they were able to help prevent a man’s suicide after the man’s friend in California alerted police about a distraught Facebook posting. The 56-year-old man who held a Florida school board hostage before committing suicide left a long message on Facebook. And last winter, a British charity worker was mocked by friends after she posted a Facebook suicide note which turned out to be real.