Friday, August 17, 2012

Facebook & Suicide Prevention

By Joe Sullivan, Chief Security Officer, Facebook, Inc., Action Alliance Executive Committee member, and co-lead of the Public Awareness and Education Task Force

For many people the topic of suicide is hard to open up to others about. For some it brings up feelings unspoken, and for others memories unwelcome. But the more you learn about the topic, the more you appreciate the power of communication in reducing the likelihood of suicide. Communication builds emotional connections, exposes risks, leads to understanding, and gives opportunities for intervention.

Years ago, the employees at a fledgling Facebook discovered the power of communication as a means of intervention, when young people using the service started writing in to our customer support team to report when a friend had posted a status update that could be interpreted as a sign of suicide risk. Confronted with this new type of intentional or unintentional cry for help, we realized that we needed to do two things—to engage with the expert community to learn how to best address these situations, and to use the power of Facebook itself to mobilize friends and counselors to communicate with the at risk person.

Fortunately, the suicide prevention community embraced working with the Facebook team, establishing strong relationships that have helped us mature in our handling of these situations. One key partnership has been our participation in the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. I’m proud to be a co-lead of the Public Awareness and Education Task Force. We fully support the Action Alliance vision of a world free from the tragic experience of suicide, and truly benefit from the rich blend of public and private resources the Action Alliance brings to bear. The Action Alliance has shown that partnership driven solutions can offer the best help in the places where it is needed most and helped us expand our network as widely as possible to make assistance available to everyone who expresses need on our site. Through this network, we have partnered with over 25 different suicide prevention agencies across the world to provide help to all our users, using resources appropriate for wherever they may be.

With the help of these partners, we have built a number of online solutions:

· We started by working with the Action Alliance, Lifeline, and the National Council for Suicide Prevention to create content for our Help Center to help the people who use our service identify those in distress and give them the help they need. Because there is no substitute for the care and concern of a person’s friends and family, we wanted to provide the advice necessary to help this natural support network recognize and respond to risk factors.

· We built on that by creating a robust reporting structure. To help those users who may be in distress we have Report links all over the site. When you click Report you can message your friend directly using our Social Reporting tool or you can report the content to Facebook to be reviewed by our Safety Team.

· And most importantly, using dedicated staffing and relationships with organizations such as Lifeline, we have done our best to pair the user with trained suicide prevention counselors. Initially that was through email connections, but recently we implemented a new solution that has worked even better. Since December last year, those users (in the United States) in distress receive a message from Facebook containing a link to begin a confidential chat session with a crisis worker from Lifeline. We rolled out this feature in partnership with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin.

· Building on these positive experiences, we have worked with the National Council for Suicide Prevention and SAMSHA to bring together (twice so far) a working group with other leading internet companies to build out a set of joint best practices.

We’re proud and humbled by the role we have been able to play in this team effort, and grateful to the Action Alliance for its important role in our growth. We look forward to the future of this relationship because together we can stop suicide by helping people find the courage to speak up whenever they see the signs a friend or family member is in distress.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Request for Information: Suicide Prevention Research

By Jane L. Pearson, PhD and Chelsea Booth, PhD

Jane L. Pearson, PhD, serves as the chair of NIMH’s Suicide Research Consortium and leads the NIH Support Staff for the Research Prioritization Task Force. Chelsea Booth, PhD, is a Presidential Management Fellow on rotation with NIMH’s Division of Services and Intervention Research. Booth provides staff support for the Research Prioritization Task Force.

As part of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the Research Prioritization Task Force is working to develop a research agenda that has the potential to reduce morbidity (suicide attempts) and mortality (suicide deaths) each, by at least 20% in 5 years and 40% or greater in 10 years, if implemented successfully. In order to achieve this goal, we are actively seeking input to identify types of research tools needed to support rapid advancement in suicide prevention research. As such, we have issued a Request for Information (RFI) inviting interested parties to contribute their specific ideas for inclusion in a collection of ways to facilitate suicide prevention research progress.

Specifically, we are asking interested parties to provide input on the following topics: a) the key methodological roadblocks that currently exist in suicide prevention research, and b) new paradigms and theoretical models with the potential to spark innovative research. A methodological roadblock is defined as a critical, unresolved challenge that is clearly limiting progress along an important suicide prevention research pathway. New research paradigms and theoretical models are novel ways of thinking about suicide behavior and avenues for prevention. However, we welcome input on any and all research-related topics on suicide prevention, such as research you would like to see done, information you would like to know more about that you think would be helpful in eradicating suicide, protective factors you think are important in preventing suicide, or lessons you and/or your community have learned about research in the past.

This RFI offers an opportunity for the community to identify and prioritize the critical “bottlenecks” that impede progress, to suggest solutions to one or more significant problems, and to nominate new paradigms for approaching this work.

We invite input from researchers, mental health professionals, suicide prevention and patient and family advocates, individuals who have survived a suicide attempt, suicide loss survivors, private and public mental health care providers and administrators, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry, and all other interested groups or individuals.

To submit your ideas and comments, please e-mail us at You will receive an electronic confirmation acknowledging receipt of your response, but will not receive individualized feedback on any suggestions. We require no minimum or maximum length for your submission.  

This link will take you to the full text of the RFI. Please note, although the official announcement lists a response close date of April 27, 2012, we are still accepting input.

Responses to this RFI are voluntary and will be shared with scientific working groups convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, as appropriate. The Government reserves the right to use any non-proprietary technical information in summaries of the state of the science, and any resultant solicitation(s). The NIH may use the information gathered to develop grant, contract, or other funding priorities and initiatives. This RFI is for information and planning purposes only and should not be construed as a solicitation or as an obligation on the part of the Federal Government, NIH, or individual NIH Institutes or Centers. The NIH does not intend to make any awards based on responses to this RFI or pay for the preparation of any information submitted or for the Government’s use of such information.