Australia may soon be following in America’s footsteps, with Facebook counselling available over ‘chat’ the next mission for Lifeline.
Australia may soon be following in America’s footsteps, with Facebook counselling available over ‘chat’ the next mission for Lifeline. Georja Ryan

Facebook on suicide watch

FACEBOOK has launched a new initiative encouraging those who post suicidal status updates to seek help.

The program, launched on Tuesday, enables users to connect instantly with an online counsellor via the 'chat' function on the social network site.

The United States has taken the reins, introducing this new service, but Australia is not far behind.

In the new service, if someone detects any suicidal commenting on a friend's Facebook page, they can click a link which notifies Facebook of the suspicious posting.

Facebook then forwards a discreet email to the user, encouraging them to call the helpline or click on a link which will take them to a chat box with a trained counsellor.

Although not operating in Australia yet, National Media Manager for Lifeline Carly Bell said this new feature will not be far off our shores.

"We need to move with the times and we've identified some shortfalls with Australia's online system so it's a high priority," Ms Bell said.

Ms Bell said there are similar systems currently in place, connecting Facebook users to Lifeline, but this advancement will be the next step in development.

"We currently have an agreement with Facebook where if suicidal posts are picked up on the site, it sends an alert to Facebook and then sends a discreet email to the user letting them know if they need assistance give lifeline a call on 13 11 14," she said.

"We are definitely talking to Facebook about doing this (chat counselling) in the future."

Ms Bell said this kind of instant intervention will aid in the prevention of suicide by attacking the problem in its somewhat initial stages.

"If people are feeling that way at that particular moment, it's about being able to provide support at that very moment," Ms Bell said.

"If Facebook systems pick up on a user making suicidal claims, as soon as someone uses that term, they have someone there without the time delay."

Lifeline studies have shown the younger generation is more likely to seek assistance via the internet as they feel more comfortable online, rather than picking up the phone.

With such a sensitive issue, there are some problems that may arise if this service is to enter the social networking realm here in Australia.

Manager at Warwick Headspace Mark Goddard said although he was not familiar with the Facebook scenario and could not give an educated comment, he said there could be some issues that could develop.

"It's really an individual thing and each case needs to be assessed individually," Mr Goddard said.

"It all depends on what's going on in someone's life so it's a really tough call."

He said if sharing their issues was done without the right follow-up, it could prove harmful to the person in question.

With Christmas just around the corner, suicide rates have begun to spike and Ms Bell said this was Lifeline's busiest time of year.

"We are currently experiencing a 15% increase in the number of calls to our helpline number and historically speaking, it's always been our busiest time of year," she said.

With financial pressures highlighted over the holiday period, some can be pushed closer to the edge.

If you have any questions or would like to speak with a counsellor, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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