Facebook adds new suicide prevention tool in the UK

By Felicity Morse
Newsbeat social media producer

Image source, Getty Images

Facebook is rolling out a new feature across the UK to help users who feel suicidal.

The Suicide Prevention tool has been developed in connection with the Samaritans.

It aims to try and provide advice and support for those struggling to cope, as well as for their friends and family.

People can now report posts they are worried about in a more direct way.

Versions of the tool were launched in the US a year ago and in Australia in December.

Julie de Bailliencourt, EMEA Safety Policy Manager at Facebook tells Newsbeat: "We have a really strong sense of responsibility towards the safety of people who are on our platform. We felt that while we've been working with the Samaritans for a number of years, we wanted to take this partnership to a whole new level."

People who see explicit threats of suicide are asked to call emergency services. Otherwise people are asked to flag troubling content to Facebook.

They then send this content on to a team who work around the clock reviewing posts.

Suicidal posts are prioritised and help options are sent to those people who Facebook think are struggling to cope.

When asked if this could lead people to use the reporting feature to bully people who aren't suicidal by continually reporting posts, Julie tells Newsbeat :"I think people using reporting tools are responsible, they know this is a serious case and not to over abuse these areas. We haven't noticed this. The language we're using is quite empathetic - it's saying hey someone's worried about you and here are things we think may be useful."

Image source, Facebook
Image caption,
This is what the alert looks like in the US

As well as people being encouraged to connect with someone at the Samaritans, users are also asked if they want to connect with a friend.

Facebook and the Samaritans have worked on a message which provides tips and advice on how they can work through those feelings with a mate.

Image source, Facebook
Image caption,
This is what the support looked like after it rolled out in the US

Although Facebook have to take action if they fear a person is at risk, anonymity is a key feature of someone's relationship with a Samaritan's worker. Even if you contact a Samaritan through Facebook, your details are not passed on.

Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland tells Newsbeat: "If people can start to talk about the unbearable pain that they're facing, we can interrupt that journey towards suicide. Suicide is not inevitable, it is preventable. This tools plays a really vital role in achieving that. "

Facebook also say they have "significantly expanded the support available" the next time the person logs on to Facebook after posting something of concern.

They also say they are providing "new resources and support to the person who flagged the troubling post, including options for them to call or message their distressed friend letting them know they care, or reaching out to another friend or a trained volunteer for support."

Ruth says sometimes the signs someone is suicidal can be easy to miss

"When people are beginning to have suicidal thoughts, it's a lonely place to be," she says.

"They sometimes put out subtle things like 'I dont think I can face tomorrow' or 'it's all feeling a bit black' or 'I'm feeling useless.' These are opportunities not to be missed. One of the worst things about being bereaved by suicide is people's feeling that there were missed opportunities."

Image source, Facebook
Image caption,
This what Facebook's suicidal post used to look like

This is all built into the initial post rather than a more complicated route of either uploading a screen shot of the troubling post into a separate page on Facebook or going through a number of "I don't like this" options on the initial post.

Julie De Bailliencourt, in charge of safety at Facebook says: "We worked with organisations including Samaritans to develop these tools, and one of the first things they told us was how much connecting with people who care can help those who are struggling to cope - whether offline or online."

If you feel you may be affected by the issues in this article check out BBC Advice.

For more stories like this one you can now download the BBC Newsbeat app straight to your device. For iPhone go here. For Android go here.