Market Overview

Feeling Suicidal? There's a Facebook App for That, Too


Facebook launched a new program Tuesday, aiming to connect suicidal users with crisis hotlines and immediate, online crisis counselors.

The idea is fairly simple. If a user expresses suicidal messages on his or her wall, his or her friends will have an option to alert Facebook. Facebook will then contact the troubled user immediately, with information for contacting a crisis counselor in their area or to chat, over instant messenger, with a crisis counselor.

It is believed that many suicidal people would be more likely to chat with someone over text than they would be to call a suicide prevention hotline.

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

It's not the first time a technology-centered company has provided some anti-suicide services for their customers, but it is the most intensive and goes above and beyond. For example, when someone searches the word "suicide" in Google and Yahoo, the two search engines always provide the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as the first result.

"The science shows that people experience reductions in suicidal thinking when there is quick intervention," said Lidia Bernik, the Lifeline's associate project director. "We've heard from many people who say they want to talk to someone but don't want to call. Instant message is perfect for that."

As someone who struggles with mental illness, I can testify that such a service could be a huge lifesaver. I know that there have been many nights where I lay awake all night, wondering if tonight was the night I would just end it all.

And I am not alone in that state of mind. With my particular illness (Bipolar 2, a type of depression) somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of all people who have it end up killing themselves. It's a terrible disease and the way it tweaks your brain, moving from anxious highs to depressed lows so quickly, it's actually no surprise that about 1 in 4 people with it kill themselves. I've certainly been on the edge of that precipice before.

It seems so ridiculous to people who know me, or who have known me a long time, that I would want to hurt myself. But the mind isn't always rational, and mental illness can be a hell of a thing to overcome. It's even worse when you start factoring in youth (many teens and college age people use Facebook) and bullying (cyber bullying is terrible and can lead to kids sort of ganging up on one kid, emphasizing the bullying).

I can remember a few times, reaching out on Facebook to talk to friends, acquaintances — really, anyone I knew who was online — who might keep me focused on something else. I can also remember being a teenager and in college and not having those resources to help me out. I'm not really sure how I got by in those days, beyond smoking a lot of marijuana and taking it one day at a time.

Having a tool like this would have allowed my friends to direct me toward a counselor much sooner. As it turned out, I always found someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone to sort of talk me down from the ledge. But I am blessed with a large group of friends who would probably do just about anything for me, and me, likewise.

It's nice to know that if they're not around, the most-used social networking service now has a way to bring help to people who need it.

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Read more of my stories at Benzinga. You can also reach me by email or on twitter @johndthorpe.

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