Facebook Tests Suicide Help With New "Help Centre"

By Amanda Cosco Comment

After the overwhelming number of suicide notes and videos left on Facebook, the company has taken a proactive approach to identifying and helping depressed users.

Facebook has partnered up with Samaritans, a 24-hour charity that provides emotional support and guidance for those contemplating suicide, to create Facebook’s first Help Centre, a confidential, nonjudgmental support system open to talking to people about their problems.

The Help Centre is comprised of 18,500 volunteers who have responded to more than five million phone calls from users feeling depressed. According to ZD Net, “the organization is encouraging users to Like their Facebook Page where they can find updates on the charity’s work and how to become a supporter.”

The Facebook Help Centre also allows Facebook users to report friends or family members whom they think are in need of help. Users can flag their friend’s account by submitting links of tell-tale wall posts or status updates. Samaritans will then access the severity of the situation and from there, they either phone the police or offer advice to the concerned friend.

“Through the popularity of Facebook, we are harnessing the power of friendship so people can get help,” said Catherine Johnstone in a public statement. Johnstone is Chief Executive of Samaritans. She continues: “As a friend you are better placed to know whether someone close to you is struggling to cope or even feeling suicidal. We want to remind people that if a friend says that life isn’t worth living, they should always be taken seriously. 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.”

According to the BBC, the suicide system has been available for three months, though it hasn’t been widely publicized because it was going through a “test period.” Experts wanted to see whether or not users would abuse the Help Centre by reporting false cases. So far, several people have reported on genuine cases, and there have been no hoaxes during the text phase.

Samaritan representatives say the Help Centre isn’t reacting to one specific case but instead trying to breach the online territory to reach users who could seriously need help. While Facebook doesn’t monitor everyone’s wall posts and status updates, they do keep their eyes open for users demonstrating suicidal qualities, and it’s always been Facebook’s policy to notify the police if they suspect a user is depressed.

Sandra Forrester, Director of Samaritans’ Northampton branch, claims that the collaboration with social media is brilliant because it allows their team to reach vulnerable people through Facebook, to let them know “that we are here to support them, and that they aren’t alone.”

The collaboration demonstrates that although social media has led to negative online interactions like cyber-bullying, sites like Facebook can also inspire positive change by reaching suicidal users who would otherwise go unnoticed. The project could turn out to be a screen saver.