Facebook opens suicide prevention tools to everyone

If a loved one has been posting worrying updates, the social network can check on your friend for you.

That emo Facebook update your friend posted may be a passing bout of frustration, or it may be a sign of something deeper. If you suspect your connections of having suicidal thoughts and want to help, but don't feel equipped to reach out, a tool from the social network is now available to everyone, making it easier to show concern.

Facebook is rolling out its suicide prevention tools to everyone in the world, and has collaborated with mental health organizations to offer more thoughtful services. The feature was available in the US to a select group of users, as well as in the UK, but will now enable anyone to report worrying content to Facebook. The company also worked with local partners to provide support in all languages in which the site is available.

After you've flagged the status, the author will receive a message saying that someone was concerned about their post. They'll get options to talk with a trusted friend, call a helpline, get tips and support, or skip.You can also choose to reach out directly to your friend, and Facebook will offer suggestions on wording.

Of course, it's easy to see how this system can be abused. Snarky friends may prank their pals by reporting status updates as suicidal, especially if there is no consequence for offenders. But Facebook has a team that reviews incoming reports and prioritizes most serious cases, such as potential self-injury, which should help it weed out fakes.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US, and the second most common for deaths of people aged between 15 and 24. The most common cause for suicide is untreated depression, and cyberbullying has been found to be strongly related to suicidal ideas. That's why it's important that organizations create as safe a space online as they can.

If you suspect someone you know is in immediate physical danger, Facebook recommends calling 911 or law enforcement for help. For those who are worried about a loved one but don't know how to help, it's a relief to have these resources within such easy reach.