How Facebook Could Help Teens in Trouble

If your child was depressed and having suicidal thoughts, where would he or she turn? And where might your child's best chance for help be found? The answer may be Facebook.

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teen suicide prevention on facebook

A Post for Help

Almost 100 Americans commit suicide each day. It's estimated that millions of Americans experience suicidal thoughts each year. When teens are in distress, they aren't always experts at expressing their feelings, particularly not with their parents. If you're the parent of a teenager, you might struggle to interpret your child's state of mind. It's also common for teens to feel uncomfortable reaching out to a teacher or other adult when they reach a point of crisis.

What's more likely is that a teen will post his or her feelings of distress on Facebook. If you've spent any time on Facebook, you're probably familiar with its confessional atmosphere. Many people post their private thoughts and emotions on Facebook much more willingly than they'll share them in person. This habit is more pronounced the younger you are.

You may not be interested in the minutiae of your friends' lives. But Facebook's confessional forum can serve a purpose when a teen's thoughts turn to suicide. The feelings he or she may keep secret in conversations with friends, parents and teachers may emerge in a status update on the website. When this happens, an opportunity for help arises.

Facebook Makes It Formal

In December, a Facebook post from the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin announced the formalizing of a partnership between the social networking site and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If anyone sees a friend's Facebook post that suggests suicidal thoughts, the person can click the site's new Report Suicidal Content link. The person that's potentially in distress will then receive an email with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Additionally, the person will be invited to join a crisis worker in a confidential online chat.

The goal of the partnership is to help reach those in need. Psychologists, crisis workers and others who can help suicidal teens first need to know who those teens are. By taking advantage of these teens' often vast social networks, those in distress can be identified, contacted and, hopefully, aided in order to prevent suicide.

Why Facebook Works

There are numerous reasons Facebook is particularly appropriate for this initiative. First, of course, it's a place where those teens with suicidal thoughts are very likely to express their feelings. But people also express their feelings in diaries, blogs and other sources. Facebook has the advantage of hundreds of millions of users. If a suicidal teen posts his or her thoughts on Facebook, the likelihood of a friend seeing it and recognizing it as an unusual or dangerous feeling is much higher than with other venues.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of a teen's friends to act as a support network and provide help when it's necessary. With Facebook and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline joining forces, offering that help is easier than ever.

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