New Facebook feature focuses on suicide prevention (VIDEO)

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The new feature will give potentially suicidal users a series of options for getting help. (Photo: Facebook)

In an effort to help reduce suicides, which are sometimes foreshadowed through social media posts, Facebook has teamed up with Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention to offer a new feature that will connect potentially suicidal Facebook users with counseling or other needed help, the groups announced in a press release Wednesday.

A report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published last year showed a disturbing rise in the rates of suicides over the last decade. In fact, suicides now account for two-thirds — roughly 20,000 –of all gun-related deaths each year in the U.S. In other words, most gun-related deaths are suicides and the majority of suicides are by firearm.

While Facebook already has a place to report what may be considered suicidal content, the new feature offers a more active, one-on-one experience for those who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.

When suicidal content is reported through the new feature, Facebook will first review the content, and if the person is believed to be in distress, the feature will launch a series of messages that will appear on the screen the next time the user logs into Facebook. The message screens will give the user a number of options for getting help and tips for getting through difficult times. The functionality is expected to go live within the next few months.

In addition, the person reporting the content will have other options for intervention as well. The feature will encourage the concerned individual to message the person who may be in distress, or message that person’s other friends or family members. It will also allow potentially suicidal people to connect directly with trained professionals through a suicide helpline.

“In the world of suicide prevention, we know that being connected is a protective factor,” said Jennifer Stuber, an associate professor at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, where Forefront was developed. “People are on Facebook 24/7, so there’s an opportunity to actually connect a suicidal person with someone they have a relationship with. Facebook is extremely proactive in what they’re trying to do. ”

However, Facebook Safety encourages anyone who sees a direct threat of suicide on the social media network to contact local law enforcement. In addition, counselors can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year at the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).