Facebook connects over 1.6 billion people, and is the place to connect with friends and family. The conversations that happen on Facebook often mirror offline conversations. About a third of the posts shared on the site include some form of negative feelings, according to a study released in February by Facebook’s researchers. Posts with negative associations tended to receive longer, more empathetic comments from Facebook friends. “People really want to help friends in distress, but often they just don’t know what to say, what to do or how to help their friends,” said Facebook’s Vanessa Callison-Burch.
Now, Facebook has incorporated suicide prevention tools into its platform, and SADAG will be facilitating the South African service. The social network has introduced mechanisms and processes to make it easier for people to help friends who post messages about suicide or self-harm. Says Callison-Burch: “In instances when someone posts distressing content about self-injury or suicide, we want to be sure that friends and family members have access to tools and information to provide support”.
Facebook’s tools aim to provide resources to the person in distress. With the new features, people can flag friends’ posts that they deem suicidal, and users are also provided with a list of resources, including help lines and suicide prevention material, that they can click through to gain access. Facebook’s new suicide prevention tools start with a drop-down menu that lets people report posts, a feature that was previously available only to some English-speaking users. The person reporting a suicide note is given a menu of options, including the ability to send a Facebook message directly to the friend in distress or to a mutual friend to coordinate help. Facebook will provide a suggested text message to send, or users can fill in their own words.
If Facebook evaluators believe a post is a call for help or a distress signal, the person whose message was reported will be presented with a similar list of options the next time that person logs into Facebook and view the news feed, including tips and resources on what to do if the person feels suicidal. Such people are also prompted to reach out to friends who may be able to support them on Facebook. SADAG will be instrumental in providing resources and assistance in this regard. SADAG hosts monthly online chats with experts on Facebook Fridays and is very well aware of the needs of the South African Facebook community. “Besides encouraging the person in distress to connect with SADAG, we will also provide them with self-help tips and advice to work through negative feelings”, says SADAG’s Cassey Chambers.
A friend or family member who has seen someone post a distressing/suicide ideation post on Facebook and is concerned, can report the post to get their loved one help. They will see a drop down menu on that person’s post at the top right hand corner, it looks like an arrow.
Step 1: Click on the arrow, a drop down menu will appear and then click on REPORT POST.
Step 2: After choosing to report the post Facebook will then ask: “why you don’t want to see this?” You will then have three options to choose from:
• It’s annoying or not interesting
• I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook
• It’s Spam
Then you select “It shouldn’t be on Facebook.”
Step 3: Another pop-up window will open asking: “What’s wrong with the post?” and you can select “This displays someone harming him/herself or planning to harm him/herself.”
Facebook will then contact the person who may need help. The next time the person in distress logs on to Facebook they will see a message from the Facebook Team which reads: “Someone who saw your post thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you want support, we’d like to help.”
There will then be options to:
• Talk with a friend (Message or call someone you trust)
• Contact a helpline – (They can listen and help you work through this). The person in distress can choose to contact SADAG’s Toll Free Helpline on 0800 567 567.
• Get tips and support (See suggestions for ways to support yourself)
• Skip This (Go to your Facebook News Feed).
The person in distress can then choose an option suitable for him/her. If they click on “your post” the link will redirect them to the reported post.
“There are 23 completed suicides every single day in SA, and a further 460 attempted suicides every 24 hours,” says Chambers. July is National Mental Health Awareness Month and this new Facebook feature launches in time for all South Africans to make mental health matter and save lives at risk.