Suicide Prevention Tools Launched by Facebook, SAMHSA

Loved ones, friends, and health care providers of individuals whom they believe to be at risk of suicide will soon have access to new tools developed by Facebook and SAMHSA that will enable them to better help those in need.

Loved ones, friends, and health care providers of individuals whom they believe to be at risk of suicide will soon have access to new tools developed by Facebook and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that will enable them to better help those in need.

Facebook’s recently unveiled features build upon its earlier suicide prevention program, which allowed users to report threats of self-harm or suicide. In addition to forwarding the flagged content to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), the social network would also recommend that users immediately report their concerns to emergency services.

As part of the new improvements, users who post concerning content will be sent a Facebook notification encouraging them to reach out to a hotline or friend and providing them with additional advice and resources. The social network will also provide resources and support to individuals who report this content.

Facebook developed these new features in collaboration with mental health organizations such as NSPL, Forefront, Now Matters Now, and Save.org. According to Facebook, this partnership helped the social network to understand the value of using social media to prevent suicide.

“One of the first things these organizations discussed with us was how much connecting with people who care can help those in distress,” wrote Rob Boyle, Facebook Product Manager, and Nicole Staubli, Facebook Community Operations Safety Specialist, in a public statement.

Facebook plans to roll out these new features in the United States over the next few months.

The social network’s improved program will not be the only new suicide prevention tool available to health care providers, as SAMHSA launched its Suicide Safe mobile app earlier this week. In addition to providing users with suicide information and resources, the app allows providers to evaluate suicide risk, review case studies, and identify treatment options. The Suicide Safe app can currently be downloaded for free on Apple and Android devices.

There are approximately 40,000 deaths from suicide each year in the United States, according to the founder and president of Pharmacists Preventing Suicide, C. Patrick Tharp, PhD, RPh. For Dr. Tharp, pharmacists have an important role to play in reducing that number.

“This is an area where pharmacists can make a great difference,” Dr. Tharp told Pharmacy Times.

Though pharmacists are frequently in a good position to help their at-risk patients, Dr. Tharp added, they are often unprepared to properly respond to concerning comments. When Dr. Tharp first began to educate pharmacists on the importance of suicide prevention, he found that very few pharmacy schools included suicide prevention courses in their curriculums.

While he acknowledged that preventing suicide can be a daunting task, he encouraged pharmacists to educate themselves on the matter, and to find motivation in their personal encounters with patients or loved ones.

“It’s distracting if you try to think of the big numbers, but if you think about how you can help someone you know or love, then that will keep you moving every day,” Dr. Tharp said. “If we save one, that will be enough.”

Practice Points

Because of their frequent interactions with patients who are prescribed antidepressants and other mental health medications, pharmacists are ideally situated to identify individuals who are at risk for suicide. In an exclusive interview with Pharmacy Times, Dr. Tharp provided the following suicide prevention suggestions:

  • Carefully monitor patients’ mental health prescriptions, paying close attention to any changes.
  • During consultations, ensure that patients are taking their medications as prescribed and ask about their mental state. If patients express any feelings of hopelessness or make any other concerning comments, ask if they have ever hurt themselves or considered doing so.
  • Advise patients who have divulged thoughts of self-harm or suicide to immediately visit and discuss these thoughts with their primary care or mental health provider. Reassure them that they can get through these thoughts.
  • Patients can also be encouraged to call NSPL’s 24-hour suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Following consultation, contact the patients’ primary care or mental health provider and express any concerns.
  • Follow up with these patients in a manner similar to that for other critically ill patients.

“I encourage all pharmacists to learn about suicide prevention and to implement it on a daily basis,” said Dr. Tharp. “With proper education and preparation, pharmacists can prevent suicide and save lives.”