Can Facebook stop you from committing suicide?


Will suicide prevention on social media work, or will it backfire?

Published 11:30 AM, March 08, 2015

MANILA, Philippines – “I hate this. It hurts too much. I want to end this now.”

In the bottomless pit of oversharing that is Facebook, some posts can be more concerning than others. In the middle of all the memes and gripes over grumpy cab drivers, sometimes a status pops out that speaks volumes of a person’s psychological well-being, and you’re torn over whether you should do something about it.

 The crisis in comforting

I’ve been on both sides of the suicidal status update dilemma. I’ve hit enough critical lows where it seriously felt like Facebook’s blank status box was the only spot left for me to cry out. I’ve also come across similar professions of hopelessness from my friends on the social media platform. And in both cases, it was a conflicting experience.

When I was feeling suicidal, the messages of reassurance, both in the comments section of my update and in private threads, were a comfort to be sure. I’ll always be immensely grateful to the people who’ve reached out, and admit that their response was partially behind why I’m still here typing this now.

 But however real-time and sincere this show of support may be, being that it is on social media there is a remote and impersonal aspect to it that I can never shake. And the awareness of this built-in distance can actually make things more depressing.

People say they’re there for me, but technically, literally, at that exact and painful point in time, they really aren’t.

This is, in turn, why I don’t respond to the suicidal posts of others. I trust myself to understand that social media can only do so much for me, but can others understand it the same way I do? I’m always afraid that when it’s my turn to try and comfort someone else that fragile by posting a comment, it wouldn’t translate over to them the way I’d want it to. Not only am I not a psych expert, but I have my own clouds over my head, and I really don’t think I can make my concern for this person properly felt.

The social media shrink

So, when I found out that Facebook was slowly rolling out a tool to help out its suicidal users, I was very intrigued, and very skeptical.

The process is as follows: A friend of yours posts something that hints strongly at suicidal tendencies (e.g. “I hate my life; I want to end it all.”). You report it to Facebook, and trained personnel will verify whether it merits action. If it does, your friend will privately see a pop-up informing them of your concern.


Your friend is then offered several options, which include talking to a friend or a helpline person; and getting basic tips and support. The tool was developed in partnership with US mental health organizations to ensure that the process and language used is as appropriate as possible.

Platform problems

For a platform that’s had its share of insensitivity issues, such as their potentially traumatic Year-in-Review gimmick, Facebook may be doing a lot of good with this project. It goes without saying that Facebook has become a necessity in many people’s lives, and if there’s a way to incorporate mental health intiatives into it, then I believe it should be taken on. Psych issues need to be addressed more often and more openly; social media, thanks to its accessibility, would appear like an obvious venue for addressing this need.

Still, for one, I can’t ignore how ironic it is that a platform recently pointed to by researchers as a possible cause of depression and envy is undertaking this endeavor. There’s even a study claiming people stalk folks on Facebook in order to feel better about themselves. So it seems to be a double-edged sword: Facebook may possibly make you depressed, and now it may also possibly wrench you from a deep depression.

It can even be a bit of a Catch-22: You go on Facebook, you get depressed, Facebook helps out with assistance from your Facebook friends, which in turn encourages you to stay on Facebook, which will make you depressed again, and on and on and on.

And going back to my initial qualms about Facebook being remote and impersonal, I also fear that there may be repercussions from being talked out of suicide by someone who isn’t physically there with you. I can personally attest that being alone in your room, feeling extreme despair, and reading text from your computer screen that’s meant to help you – written by people you know full well are far away from where you are and have other ongoing preoccupations – is a very difficult experience. In a way, getting psychological help from a screen, when you’re just one step away from ending your life, can make it even more apparent to you that you’re desperate and alone.

One step forward?

Then again, these are just speculations, and at the heart of it, having some sort of initiative like this would seem to be better than having none at all. It’s just instinctual on my part to be wary of anything that claims to address extreme depression; it’s an issue I’ve been immersed in for as long as I can remember, and it’s hands down the most difficult, and at times dangerous, part of my life. I’m depressive and always will be, and every day poses some sort of challenge that has taken me years to learn how to manage. I can’t help but feel particularly invested and skeptical.

In the end, I suppose what matters is that people are trying to do something about the issue, as opposed to just leaving it mired in stigma. However, it’s still very important to understand that, regardless of whether this Facebook tool becomes successful or not, love and comfort is still best given in person. –

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