Facebook recently updated an important tool designed to help users support friends expressing suicidal thoughts and behavior.
The product, now available to every Facebook user, dispels the pervasive and dangerous myth that people who experience suicidal feelings are beyond help while also showing bystanders exactly how they can make a difference.
Though Facebook is the first social media platform to provide users a set of comprehensive tools, including the ability to report concerning posts, there are simple strategies anyone can use when they see someone share suicidal feelings online.
“The fact that they’re putting it on social media is an opportunity.”
Jennifer Stuber, founder of the suicide-prevention organization Forefront, believes people can powerfully come to each other’s aid online by listening, showing empathy, offering support and providing resources
Stuber, who worked with Facebook on designing content for its tool, says that bystanders don’t have to be intimidated by the thought of reaching out to someone who is openly sharing their suffering.
“The fact that they’re putting it on social media is an opportunity and that’s why it’s important to respond, and respond in a compassionate manner that validates they’re going through that pain,” says Stuber.
1. Respect their feelings.
When someone expresses suicidal thoughts or feelings, the most compassionate response you can have is to validate their feelings, says Stuber. That can be as simple as saying “I care about you” or “I’m sorry you’re in so much pain.”
Don’t, however, try to talk them out of their feelings or insist you understand their suffering. Their emotions may not seem logical or reflect how you think they should experience pain, but that doesn’t matter to a suicidal person.
Phrases or responses to avoid, says Stuber, include the following:
You have so much to live for.
Things could be worse.
How could you think of suicide? Your life is not that bad.
I don’t know why you would feel this way.
It’ll get better soon.
2. Contact the authorities if necessary.
If someone appears to be in immediate danger, contact local law enforcement for assistance or call 911. If you’re worried about personally involving law enforcement, you can also report the concerning post to Facebook, which reviews such content and contacts users with prevention tools when appropriate.
3. Reach out and ask direct questions.
Direct messaging, says Stuber, is an essential tool for offering a suicidal person support if you’re not able to talk to them offline. This means doing more than responding to an emotional status with a crying emoji or comment, for example, and sending them a personal note. You can say, “How are you doing? Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Facebook’s tool also provides users sample scripts for what to say to a friend.
Stuber says openly talking about suicidal thoughts or behavior does not “put the idea in someone’s head.” While it may seem awkward to ask whether someone intends to harm themselves, it is necessary in order to learn whether they require urgent or emergency help.
Facebook provides a comprehensive list of suicide prevention resources that includes numbers for hotlines around the world.