Depression

Updated 23 June 2016

Facebook appoints SADAG to help prevent SA suicides

Facebook has incorporated suicide prevention tools into its platform, and SADAG will be facilitating the South African service.

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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 depression, according to a study released in February by Facebook’s researchers.

Tools and information

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.

Read: Depression and suicide: SA's unseen killers

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.

Read: SA has eighth highest suicide rate

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.

Working through negative feelings

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.

Read: WHO concerned about global suicide rate

“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.

The person in distress will see the following on their Facebook page the next time they log in:

suicide


“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. 

Read more:

Symptoms of depression

Causes of depression

Treating depression

 

Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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