Facebook Enhances Suicide-Prevention Tools

Facebook teamed up with Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention on a suite of tools to help users of the social network report posts that might signal thoughts of suicide.

FacebookUWForefrontSuicidePreventFacebook teamed up with Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention on a suite of tools to help users of the social network report posts that might signal thoughts of suicide.

Forefront is an interdisciplinary organization based in the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, and details of the joint initiative were revealed at the fifth annual Compassion Research Day Wednesday at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

Forefront explained how the new tools work in a release:

Working with Forefront and other mental health experts, Facebook enhanced its suite of tools to support suicidal people and tell those who see and report suicidal posts on Facebook how they can help. When someone sees a post that suggests its author might be considering suicide, they can click on a drop-down menu and report the post to Facebook.

That reporting activates a series of responses. The person who flags the post will see a screen with links that allow them to message the potentially suicidal person, contact another Facebook friend for support or connect with a trained professional at a suicide helpline for guidance.

Facebook will then review the reported post. If the poster is thought to be in distress, a series of screens will be launched automatically when that person next logs onto Facebook, with suggestions for getting help. The responses link to a number of positive options, including videos from Now Matters Now, an online program started by Forefront research scientist Ursula Whiteside that uses real-life accounts of people who have struggled with suicidal thoughts to provide research-based coping strategies.

Facebook content strategist Holly Hetherington said in the release:

Often, friends and family who are the observers in this situation don’t know what to do. They’re concerned, but they’re worried about saying the wrong thing or somehow making it worse. Socially, mental illness and thoughts about suicide are just not something we talk about.

Facebook researcher Jennifer Guadagno added:

We realized there’s a lot we don’t know. We are by no means experts in this space.

We really loved what the team (at Forefront) was doing. These are people who really, really care about this and could offer some great insight.

Readers: Have any posts by your Facebook friends ever raised red flags about the potential for suicidal thoughts?


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.