Facebook And Samaritans Aim To Prevent Suicides

A partnership with U.K.-based charity Samaritans to put distressed people in contact with professional help has been launched, after a woman told her 1,048 Facebook friends that she had taken an overdose, yet no one reported it until the following day.

The U.K. suicide hotline Samaritans has teamed up with Facebook to better help people in the U.K. and Ireland who may be feeling suicidal or severely depressed.

The Samaritans have already had a page on the social network, but now the organization aims to strengthen Facebook’s Help Center’s reporting tool. The site already allowed users to report suicidal content through an online form, but now Facebook will use the reports to put the Samaritans in touch with the stressed friend immediately.

The Samaritans’ language in the “Report Suicidal Content on Facebook” form seems vague to someone from the U.S., however. You can report input all the important information about a friend’s distressed Facebook status update or message, but there’s a disclaimer saying, “IMPORTANT: You should contact law enforcement immediately if you see suicidal content on the site. A Facebook administrator will review your report and take any available action from our end.” It’s unclear exactly what “available action” means in this context and how quickly help will come.

The idea of the Samaritans getting more involved with Facebook directly gained ground last January, when 42-year-old Simone Back committed suicide after announcing on her Facebook profile, “Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone.” The few Facebook friends that responded to the status updates offered solace from afar; others called her a liar or told her it was “her choice.” But no one reported the content until the following day, when it was too late.

“We want to remind people that if a friend says that life isn’t worth living, they should always be taken seriously,” said Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive of Samaritans, in a press release. “Facebook is a part of daily life for so many of us and we must make sure that people online have support when they need it.”

Hopefully Facebook’s partnership with the Samaritans well help the organization reach people faster and more effectively than in the past, and hopefully it motivates Facebook users to report a friend’s suicidal or distressed content.

Facebook has high hopes for the partnership: The Samaritans “will help to make our robust reporting system even more effective, as friends are encouraged to look out for one another on Facebook as they do in the real world,” said Facebook’s Director of Policy for Europe, Richard Allan, in a press release. “This supplements the number of ways to get help already available on Facebook, from our Help Centre to the reporting tools we offer.”

The Samaritans have over 201 branches in the U.K. and Ireland, with 18,500 trained volunteers staffing the helplines literally around the clock to assist people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide.

What do you think of this new initiative — could it effectively extend to the U.S. and elsewhere outside of the U.K.?