Facebook Expands Suicide Prevention Efforts to Israel and Beyond

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Credit: Bloomberg

Facebook has announced that it is expanding the operations of its suicide prevention center to Israel and many other countries where English isn’t a native language.

The social network launched the center last year, but it operated only in English-speaking countries.

In Israel the company is working with nonprofit organizations Eran (Emotional First Aid) and Sahar, a web-based emotional support service, to intervene when Facebook users express suicidal thoughts.

The network offers a tool that lets users report posts suggesting a user might indulge in self-harm.

For years, the web has had positives and negatives regarding suicide. People often detect planned suicides and alert the authorities, sometimes halfway across the world. But in other cases, cries for help on social networks have been met with mocking, teasing or even encouragement.

“Just as the online community is developing, so is interpersonal communication on social media, which can be a platform for verbal violence and bullying,” says Yifat Cohen Ben Shlush, the director of Sahar.

“On the other hand, social media provides a source of support and a place where one can express emotional pain, despair and struggle. As a result, the online community has become an important platform for preventing suicide. Each of us can help prevent suicide and be a ray of light in the darkness.”

Viral videos can have a dangerous effect; for example, when a clip of a woman committing suicide was widely disseminated last year.

“Such a story infuriates researchers and those who deal with suicide prevention,” says psychologist Yossi Levi-Belz, a faculty member at the Ruppin Academic Center and an administrator at the Bisvhil Haim NGO that helps people with suicidal thoughts and the families of suicide victims.

“We fear copycat incidents. People who are in a crisis and people who are feeling suicidal may see such a story as a trigger,” Levi-Belz says.

“An incident in which they see a young woman committing suicide and receiving media coverage is especially likely to be the final trigger that pushes people in a vulnerable state to commit suicide. Such imitation is especially widespread among teens and young adults, but it can happen to anyone in a suicidal state.”

The new tool eases the connection between Facebook users and the Eran and Sahar help lines, which can be reached by online chat or phone. But if you fear there is an immediate risk to someone’s life, Facebook recommends calling rescue services immediately.

In other cases, the company suggests contacting the user directly to say that a post was worrisome, or to contact a mutual friend who might be physically or emotionally closer to the person in distress.

Reporting a disturbing post is simple but requires a few steps.

* If you see post that makes you fear for a person’s safety, click on the down-arrow at the upper corner of the post.

* Click on “Report post.”

* Choose “I think this shouldn’t be on Facebook.”

* Facebook will ask what’s wrong with the post. Answer that the post is “threatening, violent or suicidal.”

* You will be asked to choose a type. Choose “self-injury or suicide.”

* You will then be given several options for handling the problem.

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