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How social media and the internet can help with suicide prevention


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Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Social media and forums often get a lot of bad press. Horrific stories have emerged where people have encouraged others to take their lives and even watched people livestreaming themselves doing just that. However, whilst this dark side of the internet exists, I like to believe that more people are the complete opposite of that.

With the internet and social media, you can connect to people anywhere in the world at any time of day. As someone who has experienced depression, there is something very comforting in the fact that there is always someone there to talk to whenever you need to.

I have been known to get in touch with people I known online at four in the morning to help them see their thoughts in a different light.

In fact, I’ve actually searched on Twitter before in my spare time to find people in need. I like to think that I’ve helped talk at least a couple of people out of suicide.

After all, it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. So many people I’ve spoken to over the years are so glad they didn’t take that final, permanent action.

Although their life seemed so terribly unhappy at that moment in time, they wouldn’t have the wonderful lives that they enjoy today.

As well as people like me who try to do their bit to help when they can, there are also organisations such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline who developed a Facebook chat add-on.

It allows Facebook users to report behaviour that they believe is suicidal, which then triggers a connection. The user in question is then contacted via email, encouraging them to either call the helpline or click on a link to start an online chat with a trained counsellor.

There are also similar systems on Twitter and Tumblr. Unfortunately, it is reliant on people reporting behaviour that they think could suggest a person is suicidal.

Just think about the amount of times people say things like “ugh, kill me now” if they have an exam or “dead” with laughing emojis underneath a meme. Comments such as these could easily be misconstrued by an algorithm.

The fact is it would be too tricky to create something reliable enough to scan everything as suicidal language, or what could be interpreted as such, since it is used in everyday life by people who don’t intend to actually harm themselves.

Lifeline has also partnered with Google so that if someone searches suicide, or many related queries, the top sponsored links are suicide prevention resources and the telephone number for Lifeline.

Technology can be used for good, as we have seen time and time again and this use of social media and the internet to help prevent suicide is certainly welcome.

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