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Facebook's plan to help prevent suicide


Tips Facebook will offer people who have been flagged by their friends as going through a difficult time.

Tips Facebook will offer people who have been flagged by their friends as going through a difficult time. Photo: Facebook

Facebook will on Thursday begin rolling out a new suicide and mental health program that will allow people to report friends they are worried about who might need support.

The program has been developed with the charities Headspace and Beyond Blue, and will direct people who have been flagged towards a range of options, including starting a conversation with a friend about how they are feeling, some simple strategies to help them relax, and a tool that will help them find mental health professionals in their area.

They will not be told who reported the post as concerning, and all conversations with Facebook will be private.

The screen a Facebook user will see after they have been flagged.

The screen a Facebook user will see after they have been flagged. Photo: Facebook

Mia Garlick, the head of policy in Australia and New Zealand for Facebook, said the company was aware that people could share very personal feelings on their platform.

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“People share the highlights, but they also share the lowlights,” she said. “And we want to be able to help people if they are sharing about the lowlights.”

In 2014 Robin Williams’ suicide was the most talked about event on Facebook, and other events in the top 10 included Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, the Ebola outbreak and Malaysia Airlines.

New Facebook support services.

New Facebook support services. Photo: Facebook

Ms Garlick said Facebook already allowed users to report comments they feared indicated someone was at risk of self-harm, with a team available to respond 24-7. Last year it also produced a guide to help people identify the types of posts that might indicate someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, and tips on how to help them.

The new programs build on similar work done in the US to allow users to access help, but were developed specifically for Australians. Facebook now has 14 million monthly users in Australia – with 11 million logging on every day.

Ms Garlick said as well as involving Headspace and Beyond Blue in developing its response, Facebook had researched the best way to communicate with people dealing with emotional problems.

Facebook will provide links to support services.

Facebook will provide links to support services. Photo: Facebook

She said whereas websites usually tried to communicate with people using as few steps and as simple language as possible, “compassion research” had found that when it came to emotional issues the opposite was often true.

“You use really emotion-rich language and give people context and more options – it’s a lot better to have more than less,” she said.

Facebook will also offer people scripts that are prewritten into pop-up messages to use for starting a conversation with a friend about how they are feeling.

“If you have it prefilled it actually increases the likelihood people use it, because if you show them a blank space they will sit here thinking ‘what do I do here?’ ” Ms Garlick said.

The other options for responses range from giving people advice on strategies to improve mental health, to online and real-world contacts with Headspace, Beyond Blue and other services.

Chris Tanti, chief executive of the youth mental health charity Headspace, said there was a lot of criticism of social media for causing emotional problems but it was clear that people working in the area wanted to use the platforms to get help for people.

“Globally there are multiple millions of users all going through these same problems,” he said.

He said Headspace had a national network of services, so anyone using Facebook who needed help could be put in touch with services in their local area.

“People can be notified and help can be provided just about anywhere in Australia, which is fantastic,” he said. 

Support is available:

Headspace: http://headspace.org.au/ 

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au



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