Can Facebook Help Prevent Teen Suicide?

February 06, 2012

Can Facebook Help Prevent Teen Suicide?

[caption id="attachment_1055" align="alignleft" width="183" caption="Image courtesy of suicidepreventionlifeline.org"][/caption] A report in The Chicago Tribune this past Friday posited some interesting ideas regarding the presence of social networking websites such as Facebook in suicide prevention among teens. The article, “Psychologists, Educators See Facebook as Aid in Suicide Prevention” begins by telling the story of Sam Sekulich, a college sophomore who, overwhelmed with her work, school and family life went off of her medication for bipolar disorder. When she posted he desire to “give up on it [life]” onto her Facebook page, the response was amazing. As the paper reports, both friends and faculty members came to her aid, sending emails and texts, even dropping by her dorm in order to offer emotional support. Though Sekulich claims that she was not yet at the point of “doing anything” about her depression, the aid that she received because of that Facebook post has gotten people in her college community and beyond talking about the opportunity that social networking sites offer for suicide prevention and mental health support.   Facebook Teams Up with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline In response to stories like Sam’s, last month Facebook became a partner with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in consort with U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. The partnership allows any Facebook user who views a suicidal message to report their findings through one of several links located on the site. They can also go directly to the “Report Suicidal Content” page and fill out a quick three-question form which asks for the name of the person, the URL of their Facebook page and any other relevant information that the person reporting wants to provide. Regardless of the validity of the complaint, Facebook’s system is set up to immediately send an email to the user’s registered address which encourages him or her to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via their toll-free number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In addition, Facebook will provide a link within the email that will allow the affected party the opportunity to engage in a live chat with a trained representative of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately. The hope, as the website clearly states, is to allow all Facebook users to play a hand in preventing one of the 100 suicides that occur daily in the US and Canada. Harnessing the Power of Social Media to Heal This partnership between Facebook and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is the first step towards a larger partnership between social media and education/mental health professionals. Though there are clearly lines that need to be drawn – many K-12 schools, for example, have policies that prevent teachers and students from “friending” one another – the fact that this service exists is a big step in the right direction. When we design programs that are aimed at helping teens and adults alike cope with their problems in a productive way, through offering help and advice when they need it most, we can help to redefine the landscape of social media as more than just entertainment. As educators, the issues that surround Facebook, Twitter, blogging, etc. continue to cause roadblocks. We are inundated with reports of cyberbullying, online predators and marketing through social websites. Therefore, news that important organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are signing on to the social media bandwagon gives us one more important weapon in getting through to the children and teens who need us most.



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