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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2014-2015

Social media proves useful for mental health advocacy

One of the most common ways to reach out to friends and family today is through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These outlets can allow us to see who is dating who, what our friends did this past weekend and who just had a baby, all through a quick scroll down an ever-changing news feed. While many of the almost endless posts tend to reveal positive happenings in our friends’ lives, they can also provide hints and clues about our friends who may be struggling.

Since 2011, Facebook has provided suicide support resources for members who showed signs of distress. First, the website provided a link to a hotline, then it allowed for friends and families to report posts for further review by Facebook employees.  Last month, Facebook announced improvements to its resources based on collaboration with organizations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Now, those identified as at risk by friends have the opportunity to find contact information for hotlines and professionals or get tips and advice about how to find support and work through the challenges they are facing. The dialogue box that prompts users lets them know that they are not alone and encourages getting help.

Other social media sites have attempted to provide more mental health resources with varying success. Twitter piloted an app named the Samaritans Radar, which detects words and phrases linked to suicide. However, there was backlash about privacy, and the app was removed a week later. Reddit has a SuicideWatch forum, but there is controversy about the implications of a group of people speaking online without professional guidance.

Tumblr has provided one of the best examples of mental health advocacy by prompting a dialogue box similar to Facebook about where and how to get help when users search terms related to suicide. Users must read and scroll through the information to continue with their search results. Google is similar, but lacks the more urgent, mandatory approach to resource information. However, there is a petition to improve Google’s prevention techniques, which can be supported and signed.

Overall, though, Facebook has proven to be one of the most successful systems for suicide prevention and mental health advocacy. Using social media will improve outreach and will, hopefully, prompt more people to get the help they need.