Facebook Just Unveiled a New Feature That Could Save Countless Lives

A new Facebook feature is leveraging the company's massive social network to help people in need.

On Feb. 25, the company announced an innovative suicide prevention tool within the platform that will make it easier for fellow users to report posts that indicate a person may be in danger of self-harm.

Facebook worked with mental health organizations, including Forefront, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org, to create the new feature. They also consulted those who have survived suicide attempts or had experiences with self-injury. 

According to the University of Washington's Deborah Bach, when users find a potentially concerning post, they will soon be able to click a drop-down menu that allows them to either directly contact the poster, "contact another Facebook friend for support or connect with a trained professional at a suicide helpline for guidance." Facebook will also review flagged posts and help connect users thought to be in need with the aforementioned resources.

Social media is often accused of stifling human connection, so kudos to Facebook for using its platform for something so meaningful.

This could save lives. As the team behind the new feature notes, sometimes users of social media may post clear suicide warning signs. When transgender teen Leelah Alcorn died late last December, for example, her Tumblr was filled with suicidal ideations in the weeks leading up to her death. 

"As the world's biggest social network, with more than 1.39 billion users, Facebook is uniquely positioned to provide online resources and support to help suicidal people," Bach writes on the University of Washington's website. The new feature could allow people to take a more active role in ensuring members of their community are safe and well. 

"Suicide prevention involves everyone and the more connections people have the more likely we are to save someone," Dan Reidenberg, executive director at Save.org, told Mic.

"Often, friends and family who are the observers in this situation don't know what to do," said Holly Hetherington, a Facebook content strategist with the project, according to the University of Washintgon. "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."

"By including the voices of those of those with lived experience, we are starting to close a feedback loop that has historically fallen on deaf ears," added Ursula Whiteside, research scientist at Forefront and developer of Now Matters Now, in an email to Mic. "Overall this is a population-based intervention for those who have [been] or are suicidal — by saying that their experience matters and that we want to hear from them."

Representatives said in a post on the Facebook Safety page that the updates would roll out to all users in the U.S. over the next couple of months, and that they're working to improve tools for users outside of the U.S. as well. 

This can't happen soon enough: The new tool reminds us that it's important to speak up when we see posts that indicate someone is in trouble. Reaching out and letting another person know you care and are willing to help could make all the difference.

If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, you are not alone. Seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

h/t Huffington Post

Updated: Feb. 26, 2015, 2:15 p.m.

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Derrick Clifton

A reporter, news commentator and speaker on issues of identity, culture and social justice, Derrick is a graduate of Northwestern University. Web: derrickclifton.com

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