Will Facebook be Successful in Preventing Suicide?

Facebook developed a new service Tuesday that will reach out to users experiencing suicidal thoughts through its social networking site.

"One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible," Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook, told The Associated Press.

Facebook, like Google and Yahoo, has had long standing policies with regards to providing the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when users enter searches for suicide. However, Facebook’s next step will entail an instant chat.

"Although the Lifeline on average handles 70,000 calls per month, we have heard from our Facebook fans and others that there are many people in crisis who don't feel comfortable picking up the phone," John Draper, Lifeline's project director, said in a statement.

Fred Wolens expressed: “One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress into the right help as soon as possible.”

Users who acknowledge that another user may be having suicidal thoughts can report that person to Facebook. That person will then be sent an email prompting the person to call the hotline or start a private chat. Facebook will rely exclusively on other users to report suicidal expressions.

"The only people who will have a really good idea of what's going on is your friends so we're encouraging them to speak up and giving them an easy and quick way to get help," Wolens said.

Susan B. Barnes, professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and Director of the Lab for Social Computing has written several articles on the impact of computers in society. She believes that a lot of young people are “facing difficult issues in society right now.”

According to her, “In the past is has been difficult to locate people through sites like MySpace” who were reaching out.

Now, because users on Facebook generally give their name and location, it will be easier to get help there on time.

However, the question is what age range the new service will benefit. Suicide trends have been rising in people as young as 10. Although older users may feel comfortable reporting friends in need, younger ones may not even recognize the signs for help.

Jennifer D’Erasmo, 12, said that it was unlikely her friends would ever have suicidal thoughts, “I don’t know, it’s never happened before.”

She also said that she “would probably ignore a status” that seemed depressing although if it seemed really serious she might tell her mother.