Considering how much of their lives people share with each other on Facebook, it makes sense that people who are suffering from emotional distress might leave clues about their situation on the social network -- and some of these hints could help prevent suicides, provided they’re caught early enough and interpreted correctly.
Towards that end, Facebook has joined forces with Save.org, a non-profit devoted to suicide prevention, to study the Facebook activity of people who committed suicide, according to Bloomberg. By finding behavioral patterns indicative of suicidal thinking, the research may help prompt friends and family intervene to prevent more needless tragedies.
In the Bloomberg report, Save.org executive director Dan Reidenberg (who is also managing director of the National Council for Suicide Prevention) observed that often even close friends and family avoid asking awkward questions because they don’t want to appear invasive. While nothing can substitute for actual dialogue, educating people about warning signs on Facebook can make them more vigilant in general, and therefore more likely to intervene in person.
This isn’t Facebook’s first foray into suicide prevention advocacy, Bloomberg notes. Last year Facebook partnered with Blue Star Families and the Department of Veterans Affairs to create customized suicide-prevention services for military personnel, veterans and their families. In 2011 Facebook also created a feature that allows friends who see evidence of suicidal thoughts to click a link and receive information about suicide prevention, including contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and crisis counselors available for live chats.