Facebook rolls out new "suicide prevention" tools

Posted at 5:59 PM, Jun 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-17 17:59:29-04

It could be the next frontier of social media - using it to identify and help people with suicidal thoughts or tendencies. And Facebook - now boasting more than 1.6 billion users worldwide - is aiming to be a pioneer by rolling out new features to its suicide prevention tool.

The features would let users flag and report posts they deem "suicidal" using a drop-down menu, in hopes of connecting those potentially vulnerable users with mental health professionals and other resources.

“That would be a wonderful tool, what’s going on, it’s crazy," said Audrey Hamlin of Westland.

But some say using social media for suicide-prevention efforts might not be so simple

Family psychologist Dr. Sandra Lyness said there’s a difference between someone who’s truly planning suicide and someone who talks about it, and really wants help.

"For that person it’s wonderful. But the person who’s really very unhappy, who’s decided that there is nothing to live for, they have nothing to offer, that person it’s not as good for, because then you could actually precipitate the trigger," Dr. Lyness explained.

Facebook users whose statuses are flagged using the new tools would get a confidential message directing them to a number of resources, including the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Some people raise questions of privacy and "big-brotherish" monitoring with the new features.

Ryan Wright of Inkster said he probably would not use Facebook as a means to report a suicidal friend, saying, "I feel like Facebook kind of already in a lot of people’s business.”

Dr. Lyness suggested social media can only go so far, and said, when dealing with something as precarious as suicide, people need to use discretion.

"We don’t want friends to become therapists. We want them to stay friends," she said.

Facebook itself acknowledges these features shouldn’t be a catch-all for concerns, and says anyone who encounters a direct threat of suicide should contact law enforcement or a suicide hotline.