Last year, when Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone spoke publicly about her struggle with depression, she started an important discussion on mental illness, a subject that remains socially taboo in the country. Now, Facebook has launched updated support tools to help users with suicidal tendencies in India, in collaboration with mental health organisations Aasra and Padukone’s Live Love Laugh Foundation.
The new tools will be available to the social network’s 148 million users in India, and will enable people to reach out to distressed friends directly or by reporting their posts to Facebook.
Often, friends and family who are the observers in these types of situations don’t know what to do. They’re concerned, but they’re worried about saying the wrong thing or somehow making it worse,” Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director, Facebook, India, South and Central Asia said.
Facebook had first launched the suicide prevention tools in the US last February, in partnership with local mental health organisations such as Forefront, Now Matters Now and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“Socially, mental illness and thoughts about suicide are just not something we talk about. Facebook is a place where people connect and share,” Das added, “and one of the things we have learnt from the mental health partners and academics we have worked with on this issue, is that being connected is a protective factor in suicide prevention.”
According to the World Health Organisation, India has the world’s highest rate of depression, and more suicides than any other country.Yet, discussions around depression and mental health remain taboo.
The new feature is especially important in addressing this stigma.Mental illness and thoughts about suicide are just not something we talk about openly,” Anna Chandy, Chairperson at The Live Love Laugh Foundation, said. “Facebook is used by Indians from diverse backgrounds, so there is an opportunity to connect someone who is struggling to a person who will relate and empathise with them.”
Padukone was among the first public figures in India to publicly talk about depression and the importance of mental health. A few months later, she began the Live Love Laugh Foundation to provide support and spread awareness about depression.
“The rate of suicide amongst the youth in India is one of the highest in the world. It is especially important to reach out to young people out there who are feeling depressed and encourage them to reach out for help,” Padukone said. “The society as a whole needs to be educated about this so that we are sensitised to signs of depression in our friends, neighbours and relatives and can guide them towards expert assistance.”
How the tools work
The new feature allows anyone who is concerned about a friend being suicidal or prone to self-injury, to report the post to Facebook and help them connect to mental health professionals or reach out them directly. The flagged posts are monitored and reviewed by teams working round-the-clock and across the world, with the most serious reports on self-injury being prioritised.
Facebook then sends the distressed user this pop-up, with options to talk to a friend about their problem, contact a suicide helpline and get self-help suggestions and self-help resources.
If they choose to talk to a helpline, they can call or message a trained health professional at Aasra or Live Love Laugh Foundation, which has partnered with the Tata Institute of Social Science’s free counselling hotline iCall.
Alongside this, Facebook has also introduced the Help A Friend In Need Guide, which provides mental health resources to help people identify signs of emotional distress and risk of suicide, and steps on how to help them. The guide was originally developed in consultation with the Jed Foundation and the Clinton Foundation in the US, and will now be available in ten regional languages including Hindi, Bengali, Kannada and Tamil.
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