Facebook users contemplating suicide can now contact a crisis counselor 24 hours a day through the website's chat system, The Associated Press reported.
The social networking site, which boasts more than 800 million users, launched a new feature Dec. 13 which allows users who see suicidal thoughts on someone's page to report them to Facebook by clicking a link next to the comment. Facebook then sends an e-mail to the user who posted the comment with a link to begin a confidential chat with one of the National Suicide Prevention hotline's counselors.
"One of the big goals here is to get the person in distress the right help as soon as possible," Fred Wolens, public policy manager at Facebook, told The Associated Press.
Search engines like Google and Yahoo have always put the hotline number as the first result when someone searches "suicide," and Facebook also directed users to the hotline. This new feature takes prevention a step further.
Facebook doesn't monitor the site for suicidal comments or statuses, Wolens said. It would be far too difficult logistically, with so many users and so many comments that could be misinterpreted by a computer algorithm, the AP reported.
More than 30,000 Americans commit suicide per year, according to United States Surgeon General Regina Benjamin's office. Last month, authorities in Pittsburg, Calif., said a man posted a suicide note on Facebook before he killed his wife, in-laws and then himself.
"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," Benjamin said in a statement to the AP. "Facebook and the Lifeline are to be commended for addressing one of this nation's most tragic public health problems."
The Lifeline currently responds to dozens of users on Facebook each day, the AP reported.