Social Media & Suicide Prevention

Last year I wrote about an update to Facebook and Instagram that was aimed to help connect people who were suicidal to professionals at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Now, a little over a year later, Facebook has taken this a step further and stated that they’ll use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to flag posts that could be concerning and connect those to a human who can then contact mental health professionals and local responders.

“This is about shaving off minutes at every single step of the process, especially in Facebook Live,” says VP of product management Guy Rosen. Over the past month of testing, Facebook has initiated more than 100 “wellness checks” with first-responders visiting affected users. “There have been cases where the first-responder has arrived and the person is still broadcasting.” – TechCrunch

This update comes at a time when there are over 2 billion monthly Facebook users, nearly 5 billion YouTube videos are watched every day and 200 million people check Instagram on a daily basis. Whether you think social media is the greatest thing in the world or you can’t stand it, the truth is that most people in the world use at least one form of social media and this update is a step in the right direction for suicide prevention.




The Power of Social Media

It seems lately that more and more people are standing up and speaking out against social media. I won’t disregard the fact that it can lead to negative things like bullying FOMO, & unreal expectations but we can’t overlook the fact that it can also give people a chance to connect, to voice their opinions & to even get help.

Here I have to be blatantly honest and say that I might have a bias toward this medium as I currently work in the world of social media, but I think we often neglect the fact that there is good that comes from these platforms, too.

Last year, Facebook rolled out a tool that allowed suicidal users to connect with a professional at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Now, Instagram (owned by Facebook) seems to be following a similar route. If a user notices a post that seems to nod to self-harm or suicidal thoughts, it can be reported to get that individual connected to a hotline or seek other ways to help. The platform has even taken things one step further by also blocking hashtags like #thinspo & #selfharm.


In a world where teenagers are constantly connected and chatting, it’s refreshing to see that these tools are evolving and trying to help with other major needs many teenagers face: depression and suicidal thoughts.

Though social media isn’t perfect and it can lend its way to many negative things, it’s being used by millions of people across the world, and it’s reassuring to know that these platforms care about their users well-being and mental health.

Let’s Talk.

As summer nears an end and many students and teachers are gearing up for another school year, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of depression.

With the rise of social media incorporated into everyone’s daily lives (mine included) it can be easy to display a confident, happy façade. Instead of pretending that the world is full of butterflies and rainbows, let’s focus on having real conversations that matter.

I read stories about depression and suicide on a weekly basis, each one hitting close to home and reminding me of a time and place in my own life when these thoughts and feelings were all too familiar. Today I read a New York Times article shedding light on depression and suicide among students. It pains me to see that, since 2007, suicide rates among 15-24 year-olds have increased. I forget sometimes that, as willing as I am to talk about these subjects, they are still very much taboo, especially to our youth.

That’s why I love reading about non-profits like Active Minds or TWLOHA becoming more and more active on campuses across the U.S. I love reading articles like this one, a major newspaper, willing to tackle topics that are so important to talk about. We’re all aware that these topics make so many people uncomfortable and can be hard to open up about, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the conversation.

This article focused heavily on the use of social media and the effect it has on youth. Sure, a smiling selfie might look great, but do you really know what’s going on in that person’s mind? Instead of constantly posting on Facebook or Snapchatting, have a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Open up about your bad days with your roommate or close friends. I’m guilty of closing off others in light of having a difficult conversation, but maybe this is something we need to challenge ourselves with.

Talk about the things that hurt.

Share the things that upset you.

Ask for help when you need it.

And take the posts you see on social media with a grain of salt. Maybe we’re all just trying to put on a Face to make it seem like we’re not living in some dark, tortured world. Maybe our lives aren’t as happy and perfect as we make them appear on Instagram. And if that’s the case … it’s okay.

If you see someone shutting down, please speak up. If you don’t have a story of your own to share, then share Kathryn DeWitt’s story or share mine, but we need to keep talking about suicide and depression. We need to let the youth of this world know that there is a life possible outside of depression and suicide does not have to be the answer.

Internalizing an External Problem

It happens all too often: you don’t get the job after a great interview or the love of your life walks out on you. Something happens in the real world that may be out of one’s control, and yet they blame themselves for the problem. While most of us choose to dwell on the topic for a day or a week and eat a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s, others take the matter to a worse extreme.

Since the recession hit, reports have shown that suicide rates are on the rise. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that over 800,000 people kill themselves every year and what is possibly due to the economic circumstances, these numbers have only gotten higher, especially in the Western World. In countries like Ireland, Portugal, and Greece the suicides rates have risen 15 percent in 2011 as compared to the numbers from 2007.

The reports also showed that countries with citizens who have a higher income have lower suicide rates due to the fact that these people may not feel the repercussions as much as a person in a less-wealthy country. The numbers not only show how much of a toll the economy is taking on people, but they also show just how materialistic our world has become.

A writer in the Netherlands spoke of internalizing problems in our world today,the external problems of economic recessions … is often internalized, largely because the media, politicians, priests and sages insist that any calamities that befall on the individual are her/his fault and not a structural or institutional problem. Therefore, the sense of guilt, self-hatred, and pain is so intense that to stop the hurt, the individual must kill the self, instead of pointing to the predatory institutional system as the root of the problem.”

Although I am not trying to downplay the problems happening all over the world in our economy today, there are many ways of dealing with this problem other than ending your life. There are social media support groups and outlets everywhere; many other people are struggling with much of the same problem. As we have recently seen, it doesn’t matter who you are, suicide and depression are affecting people all over the world on a daily basis. Help someone you see struggling today and don’t let someone you know become another statistic.

Social Media Uses Chat in a New Way

Facebook,Twitter, and Tumblr have become many people’s sources of reaching out to others, discovering themselves, as well as becoming a news source. Today, as I was searching through my Facebook I came across the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Facebook page. As I was reading up on them and searching through their posts I found something interesting.

Not only can people struggling with suicidal thoughts find a phone line where they can talk, but now these people can speak to a counselor via Facebook chat. Some people may be skeptical as to whether these people who may be struggling should be finding their help hiding behind a screen, I think it’s great that there is yet another outlet for people. For those suffering from suicidal thoughts or mental illness, sometimes reaching out at all is very hard. Now, those who may be thinking about talking to someone but are still a bit unsure can sit down and talk out their problems with a professional.

If you or a friend is struggling with suicidal thoughts, I urge you to call the lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or visit their Facebook Page