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OP-ED: Creating hope through action and helping to prevent suicide on Facebook and Instagram

  • Published at 07:55 am September 10th, 2021
Representational image Bigstock

All of us - no matter how resilient we are - face mental health challenges brought about by the stress, uncertainty and isolation of the pandemic

For almost two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives in ways that once would have seemed unimaginable - from our finances, to our working arrangements, to our education, to our interpersonal relationships and our social lives. This is to say nothing of the significant health implications associated with contracting the virus.

All of us - no matter how resilient we are - face mental health challenges brought about by the stress, uncertainty and isolation of the pandemic. The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on vulnerable groups and already marginalized communities has led to some of the highest suicides rates across the globe - and in particular, the Asia Pacific region.

The lack of focus on mental health within society and unequal distribution of resources across APAC, has magnified the need for alternative channels for people to access support. Many people are reaching out for help online and we have robust policies and tools to address the needs of communities on Facebook and Instagram.

Friday September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day and this year’s theme ‘Creating Hope Through Action’, is a reminder that through our actions, each of us can provide hope to people who may be struggling.

Supporting our community

We care deeply about the safety of the people who use our apps. We regularly consult with experts in suicide and self-injury to help inform our policies, and we work with organizations in Bangladesh and around the world to provide assistance to people in distress.

We don’t allow people to celebrate or promote self-harm or suicide on Facebook or Instagram. Although, we do allow people to discuss these topics because we want our platforms to be a space where people can share their experiences, raise awareness about important issues, and seek support from one another.

When someone sees a post that suggests a friend may need support, they can report the content to us so we can reach out to this person with information that may be helpful to them, such as contact numbers for local helplines or reaching out to a trusted friend. Over 100 local crisis helplines, including National Institute for Mental Health and Hospital, Kaan Pete Roi and Moner Bondhu are also available through our Help Center

We show pop-ups directing people to resources when they post content or search for terms associated with suicide and self-injury. We also provide resources in our Suicide Prevention Hub for people who may be considering suicide or who may have a friend in need.

Experts say that one of the best ways to help prevent a suicide is for people in distress to hear from others who care about them. Through the connections people have on Facebook and Instagram, we have a unique role to play in facilitating action, creating hope and helping people get the support they need.

However, the work we do at Facebook is just one part of the solution. Suicide and self-injury is a complex social issue and it requires a whole-of-society response. All of us - tech companies, governments, NGOs, educational institutions and citizens - have a role to play in helping create hope for people in need through action.

How you can help create hope

We've worked with suicide prevention experts to understand the best ways to support a person who's having suicidal thoughts and we have a range of guides that provide support if you are struggling, or tips on starting a conversation with a friend in need. My top four points to remember are:

  1. Staying connected is more important than ever in these socially distant times and all of us can create hope just by taking the action to reach out. All it takes is something as simple as a message that says “Hi, I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to check in” to let someone know they are important to you.
  1. If someone is expressing warning signs that they may be considering harming themselves, empathize and listen. Try asking open-ended questions that will get them talking about how they're feeling. If they’re posting on Facebook or Instagram, you can also report it for review by our specially trained team and if appropriate, we may reach out and provide the person with resources to get help. 
  1. If you think someone is in immediate danger, call local emergency services immediately on 999 - don’t wait. 
  1. Whilst talking to your friend or family member is valuable, it’s also important to help them get to the next level of care. You also might want to connect them with a counselor, health care professional or a helpline.

Whether you’re worried about someone you know or you're struggling on your own, we hope Facebook can help. There is always an alternative to suicide and you can contact the National Institute for Mental Health and Hospital, Kaan Pete Roi and Moner Bondhu if you need support.

Shireen Vakil is Head of Safety for Facebook Asia Pacific

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