“Facebook started working with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2007. A reader who spots a disturbing post can alert Facebook and report the content as ‘suicidal.'”
Facebook gets a lot of flak. Even for a Project that was built in many ways through social media, we have a Love-Hate relationship with it, as can be seen from founder Tom Matlack’s recent post Facebook Depresses Me. While the title might be depressing, Tom also goes on to write about many ways that Facebook can actually increase happiness.
But a post in today’s New York Times suggests that Facebook can help offer clues to depression in teens and young adults. And at that particularly tricky time of the transition of boyhood to manhood, shouldn’t we be paying attention?
“You can identify adolescents and young adults on Facebook who are showing signs of being at risk, who would benefit from a clinical visit for screening,” said Dr. Megan A. Moreno, a principal investigator in the Facebook studies and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Sometimes the warnings are seen in hindsight. Before 15-year-old Amanda Cummings committed suicide by jumping in front of a bus near her Staten Island home on Dec. 27, her Facebook updates may have revealed her anguish. On Dec. 1, she wrote: “then ill go kill myself, with these pills, this knife, this life has already done half the job.”
Facebook started working with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2007. A reader who spots a disturbing post can alert Facebook and report the content as “suicidal.” After Facebook verifies the comment, it sends a link for the prevention lifeline to both the person who may need help and the person who alerted Facebook. In December, Facebook also began sending the distressed person a link to an online counselor.
While Facebook’s reporting feature has been criticized by some technology experts as unwieldy, and by some suicide prevention experts as a blunt instrument to address a volatile situation, other therapists have praised it as a positive step.
At some universities, resident advisers are using Facebook to monitor their charges. Last year, when Lilly Cao, then a junior, was a house fellow at Wisconsin-Madison, she decided to accept Facebook “friend” requests from most of the 56 freshmen on her floor.
She spotted posts about homesickness, academic despair and a menacing ex-boyfriend.
“One student clearly had an alcohol problem,” recalled Ms. Cao. “I found her unconscious in front of the dorm and had to call the ambulance. I began paying more attention to her status updates.”
Ms. Cao said she would never reply on Facebook, preferring instead to talk to students in person. The students were grateful for the conversations, she said.
“If they say something alarming on Facebook,” she added, “they know it’s public and they want someone to respond.”