Published On: Mon, Jun 27th, 2016

Facebook launches tools to help people sharing suicidal feelings online


Facebook recently updated an important tool designed to help users support friends expressing suicidal thoughts and behavior.

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The product, now available to every Facebook user, dispels the pervasive and dangerous myth that people who experience suicidal feelings are beyond help while also showing bystanders exactly how they can make a difference.

Though Facebook is the first social media platform to provide users a set of comprehensive tools, including the ability to report concerning posts, there are simple strategies anyone can use when they see someone share suicidal feelings online.

Jennifer Stuber, founder of the suicide-prevention organization Forefront, believes people can powerfully come to each other’s aid online by listening, showing empathy, offering support and providing resources

Stuber, who worked with Facebook on designing content for its tool, says that bystanders don’t have to be intimidated by the thought of reaching out to someone who is openly sharing their suffering.

“The fact that they’re putting it on social media is an opportunity and that’s why it is important to respond, and respond in a compassionate manner that validates they’re going through that pain,” says Stuber.

  1. Respect their feelings.

When someone expresses suicidal thoughts or feelings, the most compassionate response you can have is to validate their feelings, says Stuber. That can be as simple as saying “I care about you” or “I’m sorry you’re in so much pain.”

Don’t, however, try to talk them out of their feelings or insist you understand their suffering. Their emotions may not seem logical or reflect how you think they should experience pain, but that doesn’t matter to a suicidal person.

Phrases or responses to avoid, says Stuber, include the following:

  • You have so much to live for.
  • Things could be worse.
  • How could you think of suicide? Your life is not that bad.
  • I don’t know why you would feel this way.
  • It’ll get better soon.
  1. Contact the authorities if necessary.

If you’re worried about personally involving law enforcement, you can also report the concerning post to Facebook, which reviews such content and contacts users with prevention tools when appropriate.

  1. Reach out and ask direct questions.

Direct messaging, says Stuber, is an essential tool for offering a suicidal person support if you’re not able to talk to them offline. This means doing more than responding to an emotional status with a crying emoji or comment, for example, and sending them a personal note. You can say, “How are you doing? Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” Facebook’s tool also provides users sample scripts for what to say to a friend.

Stuber says openly talking about suicidal thoughts or behavior does not “put the idea in someone’s head.” While it may seem awkward to ask whether someone intends to harm themselves, it is necessary in order to learn whether they require urgent or emergency help.

Facebook provides a comprehensive list of suicide prevention resources that includes numbers for hotlines around the world.

  1. Get friends involved.

When you see an acquaintance or distant friend express suicidal feelings online, don’t wait for someone who is closer to them to respond. Instead, says Stuber, “activate a network” by reaching out to another person who knows them well. You can say something like, “Hey, I’m worried about Amir’s post, but I don’t know him well enough to offer the support he needs. How do you think we can get him help?”

  1. Know your role.

Bystanders who want to help should be clear about their role. Family members and close friends, for instance, might expect to talk frequently with the person in need in the following days, weeks and months. But if you’re less connected with that person, it’s reasonable to envision your role as a less involved or long-term one.

  1. Remember that treatment and recovery are possible.

A common myth about suicide is that people who experience such feelings will ultimately act on them — even when given support — and that nothing can be done to prevent that outcome.

Research shows, however, that few people are chronically suicidal, and that treatment for suicidal thoughts and behavior is very successful. Stuber says most people who attempted suicide report that they are happy to be alive today.

A bystander can offer meaningful support, says Stuber, by reassuring a suicidal person that they’re not alone: “There is hope, there are other people who have been there, recovery is possible and they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help.”

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About the Author

Syed Ammar Alavi

- is Lahore (Pakistan) based journalist & writer with 25-year experience in print, wire and broadcast forms of journalism. His major fields of interest are politics, film,tv,sports, climate change and technology