As the holidays creep closer and closer, the majority of us start to spend more and more time thinking about ways to brighten our households, warm up our spirits, and plan for exams. For the 3700-some Canadians that commit suicide each year however, it’s a whole other story. With the slowly shortening days and cold nights, this group of Canadians tend to see the winter months as the ending to not only another year, but to their lives. And it’s no wonder. Darkened skies and dreary mornings are known to increase incidences of depression and suicide throughout the country, and grow especially prominent during the winter months.
This year, teenaged suicides have been thrust into the limelight. Many moments of silence have been set aside in memory of the young people who took their own lives. With the advent of social media, more teens are posting suicide notes on websites like Facebook and Tumblr before committing the act.
With more than 800 million users worldwide, Facebook has taken action this week in launching a program to reach out to potentially suicidal and self-harming individuals. Upon seeing a violent or otherwise provocative message, picture, or status update, users can now “flag” and report suicidal or otherwise violent items on the site. At Facebook, staff members constantly monitor these reports at all times of day, individually investigating each report. Afterwards, an e–mail may be sent offering phone numbers for suicide hotlines and a link to a private web chat with a counselor. In addition, worried friends who reported the behavior also receive an email to reassure them the situation is being addressed.
Already, the program has received varying feedback. Some Facebookers claim that taking one’s life is within their rights, heavily criticizing the company for its invasion of privacy. Other users laud Facebook for taking a small, yet central step to do its part for society.
Regardless of its implications, Facebook’s simple system is a reminder to us all. With a simple click and a few keystrokes, concerned friends can connect their classmates with experienced counselors, and pull a friend out of an intoxicating cycle from which they may never escape. Although few of us may ever use this system in our Facebook lives, at the very least it’s assuring to know that a service is there in case we need it. With almost a 3% increase in suicides between 2006 and 2008 1 , watching out and keeping each other safe should be among our highest priorities this season.