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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Suicide by Facebook?

I wanted to take some time to talk about suicide and social media. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, and it's a preventable problem!

It seems that more and more deaths and suicides are being preceded by posts on Facebook or Twitter or MySpace. Simone Back updated her status on Facebook on Christmas Day, 2010, to say, "Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone." She had over 1000 friends and none reached out to help. Some even posted heartless messages back to her, stating it was her choice or calling her a liar. 

Bart Heller updated his Facebook status on December 12, 2011, with this: "Someone call 911. Three dead bodies at 3229 Lima Road, Fort Wayne, Indiana. I've killed Ryann, Erin, and myself. People were warned not to play me and ruin me. They didn't listen. Sorry about your luck." 

A friend in Washington State saw the status update, looked up police in Fort Wayne, gave them the address, and they were dispatched 18 minutes after Bart's status. Unfortunately, all three were dead, just as Bart had said.

Facebook teamed with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in December 2011 to enable Facebook users to report a suicidal comment they see posted by a friend on the site. They can literally connect that person to help almost immediately.

Facebook users can go to the link to Report Suicidal Content. (You can find this link just by going to Facebook's help section and typing in "suicidal content.") You can check if the person is in the military or not, their full name, the content of what was posted (copy/pasted) and any additional info you feel relevant.

Facebook can respond directly to the user via email (if appropriate), indicating that someone on Facebook is concerned about their safety, and encourage the user to enter a confidential online chat session with a crisis counselor or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline is available 24/7.

Twitter has done something similar, allowing users to report suicidal of self-harm content here.

I thought that not only would this information benefit you as fellow humans of suffering people in the world, but also as writers. You never know when something like this might show up in one of your novels. I'm just grateful that Facebook and other social media networks are trying to address this very real problem.

Let's Analyze: Have you ever heard about a friend or yours who posted suicidal content on the web? What else do you think Facebook/Twitter/etc could do?