Using Social Media to Save Lives
Suicide, the Nation’s 10th leading cause
of death1, is a preventable public health
problem. Family members and friends
of someone having suicidal thoughts may
not know how to help, but SAMHSA and
its grantees are using social media and
smartphone apps to help them connect
people to lifesaving services.
In December 2011, SAMHSA debuted a
first-of-its-kind service in collaboration
with Facebook and the SAMHSA-funded
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The new service enables Facebook
users to report a suicidal comment they
see posted by a friend on the site and help
connect that person to immediate help.
Two days after the program launched, a
grateful user noted, “I just hope you know,
this could save millions.”
This innovation supports SAMHSA’s
plan to advance its suicide prevention
efforts, with a particular focus on new
technologies that raise awareness of how
people can help others.
“We have effective treatments to help
suicidal individuals regain hope and a
desire to live, and we know how powerful
personal connections and support can
be,” said U.S. Surgeon General Regina M.
Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A. “Therefore, we,
as a Nation, must do everything we can to
reach out to those at risk and provide them
the help and hope needed to survive and
return to productive lives with their family,
friends, and communities.”
How It Works
Facebook users in the United States and
Canada can take action through the “Report Suicidal Content” link or
the “report” links across the site. Once a
user is reported to Facebook for posting
suicidal content, the content is reviewed by
the Facebook Safety Team.
If appropriate, Facebook will respond
directly to the user via email, indicating
that someone on Facebook is concerned
about their safety, and encourage the user
to enter a confidential online chat session
with a crisis counselor or call the toll-free
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,
1–800–273–TALK (8255). The Lifeline
offers free and confidential telephone crisis
counseling to anyone in need, 24 hours a
day, and has answered more than 3 million
calls since its 2005 launch.
“The Lifeline’s commitment to suicide
prevention has enabled people on
Facebook to get fast, meaningful help
when they need it most, and we look
forward to continuing our work with them
to help save lives,” said Facebook’s Chief
Security Officer Joe Sullivan.
Suicide Prevention App
Smartphones offer new suicide prevention
opportunities through apps that connect
people to help, wherever they are.
Supported by SAMHSA’s Garrett Lee
Smith State and Tribal Suicide Prevention
Grant and the Texas Department of State
Health Services, Mental Health America
of Texas offers a free app featuring warning
signs and helpline information.
Suicide prevention is a key priority
within SAMHSA’s Strategic Initiative
1: Prevention of Substance Abuse and
Mental Illness. In alignment with the
National Prevention Strategy, SAMHSA
is increasing public knowledge of the
warning signs for suicide and actions
to take in response to suicidal behavior.
Web-based services and smartphone apps
are key channels to reduce the impact of
suicide in America.
“It’s increasingly important to provide
support for people who may not be
comfortable speaking about their problem,
but may be willing to accept help online,”
said Richard McKeon, Ph.D., M.P.H.,
Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch
within SAMHSA’s Center for Mental
SAMHSA offers other suicide prevention
resources, including the Suicide Prevention
which is funded through a SAMHSA
grant, and SAMHSA’s Mental Health
Services Locator, which provides comprehensive
information about mental health services
and resources nationwide.
1 Kochanek, K. D., Xu, J. Q., Murphy, S. L.,
Miniño, A. M., & Kung, H. C. (2011). Deaths:
Preliminary Data for 2009. National Vital
Statistics Reports. 59(4). Hyattsville, MD:
National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved
2 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. (2009).
Compendium of Federal Activities, 17. Retrieved