Facebook is good for a lot of things. It helps us connect with friends and loved ones who live far away. It gives us a chance to network with other professionals. It allows us to follow our favorite products, play games and waste a little time when we are bored. But there is a darker side to Facebook as well. Many people who use the social networking site feel “Facebook envy,” comparing their lives to others and experiencing sadness, frustration and anger. And, for people who are genuinely troubled, Facebook can be an outlet for negative thoughts, feelings and emotions. Facebook posts have, for some, replaced the suicide note as a final message to the world.
Loved ones of people who commit suicide often state that they did not see the warning signs ahead of time, or they chose to ignore or justify those signs. It adds an extra layer of tragedy to an already sad, awful event. But in this era of social media, where we can seemingly use technology to solve every problem from tracking vehicles to performing surgery, there are those who feel that we can leverage the power of Facebook to intervene in the lives of depressed and hopeless people before they take their own lives.
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Researchers at the suicide prevention group SAVE.org is using information from the social media site to gain insight into how individuals with suicidal ideation behave prior to taking their own lives. The Executive Director of Save, Dan Reidenberg, hopes that this information will help loved ones better identify warning signs to intervene in the lives of people who are considering committing suicide.
“Friends sometimes don’t ask important questions for fear of being invasive,” Reidenberg, who also serves on the National Council for Suicide Prevention, told Bloomberg. “If we can see what’s happening, we can train people to look for it.”
Of course, Facebook is not the only venue to look at when seeking insight into the minds of suicidal individuals. Twitter and Google are also working to address this tragic and very real concern. Twitter representatives say that the company is open to participating in a study similar to the Facebook/Save initiative, and Google has designed its search engine to bring up the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when anyone searches for suicide-related terms.
“Anything that can decrease the latency between someone needing help and getting help is beneficial,” Frederic Wolens, a spokesman for Facebook, told Bloomberg. “We’re trying to really shorten that period of time, whether it’s Facebook intervening, or that person’s friends or suicide prevention organizations.”
Edited by Jamie Epstein