Wednesday 21 February 2018

Facebook offers instant counselling to suicidal users in crisis situations

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Emma Barnett

FACEBOOK has launched a new initiative which will allow those users with suicidal thoughts instant access to crisis counsellors via its instant messenger service.

If a user of the site is having a problem and is in distress, they can request to speak to a crisis counsellor from the National Suicide Prevention organisation. The conversation can happen straight away through Facebook’s instant messenger app.

The initiative, which began yesterday in the US, is the first time people can directly talk to a counsellor through the site. Up until now, the site has shown a telephone number or the email address of organisations people can call when they are in distress.

Facebook has a partnership with the Samaritans, but no such instant messenger service. The site could not yet say when a similar service will be rolled out in the UK or Ireland.

With the new initiative, if a friend sees a suicidal Facebook post on someone’s wall, they can report it to Facebook by clicking on a link next to the comment. A Facebook representative will then send an email to the person and encourage them to call the counselling hotline or click the link for a confidential instant chat with a counsellor.

"One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible," said Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook.

He added: “The only people who will have a really good idea of what's going on is your friends so we're encouraging them to speak up and giving them an easy and quick way to get help."

There have been a growing number of suicide notes appearing on Facebook, with many people then taking their own lives and others shortly afterwards.

Last month, a man from Pittsburgh in the US, posted such a note on Facebook shortly before killing his wife, in-laws and then himself.

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