Preventing Suicide on Facebook

I work with a lot of social workers and have for several years now. I’m the one that helps with the public communications – PR, community relations, writing and designing marketing materials, etc. With the rise in popularity of social networking, I have also used social media quite a bit for messaging.

The problem is that you have that whole HIPAA thing to contend with, not to mention the stigma that comes along with a lot of what social workers do. People aren’t as supportive of those with mental health and substance abuse problems as they are with those that have cancer or diabetes.

Many clinicians have concerns about maintaining a Facebook page. During a presentation I made in Baltimore for the 2011 Institute for Behavioral Health Informatics, we had a great discussion around what to do if a client (or even a non-client) posted that they were going to commit suicide. This scenario alone was a reason for some of the audience to not maintain a Facebook page.

I talked about the importance of having a social media plan and policy in this kind of setting. Constant monitoring of the page was also discussed. I asked what people would do if someone was suicidal in real life (vs. online). One counselor told me that if a client threatened to kill himself and then run out of his office, the policy of his organization was to let the person leave and immediately report the incident to the police.

Now, clinicians and any of us who see a suicidal post or comment by a Facebook friend can report the incident. Through a partnership between the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Facebook, a new service allows Facebook users to report a suicidal comment they see posted by a friend using either a Report Suicidal Content link or the report links found throughout the site. The person who posted the suicidal comment will then immediately receive an e-mail from Facebook encouraging them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or to click on a link to begin a confidential chat session with a crisis worker.

I know a lot of social workers that will breathe a sigh of relief because of this partnership.

Read more about the partnership, and bookmark this link, even if you’re not a social worker. You may not need it now, but it just might save someone’s life in the future.

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