Facebook unveils new tools to help combat suicides and self-harm - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Facebook unveils new tools to help combat suicides and self-harm

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Social media has contributed to suicide awareness as teens seek help, even when they're reluctant to talk to an adult. Their cries for help online too often goes undetected, but some recent changes in social media could make a positive difference.

"Children are putting out so much information online and not always someone responsible is getting that information and getting help," said Kelly Owen, a school counselor at East Ridge Middle School. "It's just a challenging time; youth. self confidence is low and peer pressure is high and you do have the social media presence now. We could go home and ignore it but here I mean the moment they're out of school they're typically on their phone or a site or something."

Owen explained often times the challenge is getting a teen who sees an alarming post to say something to an adult. 

According to the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death (2013 data) in Tennessee, claiming over 950 lives per year. Roughly 100 of these are between the age of 10-24—suicide is the second-leading cause of death within this age group.

"A teen reaching out for help is more likely to reach out online or to a peer than to see their parents so that can sometimes be dangerous," said Owen.

Facebook is now lending a hand in getting teens the help they need by developing algorithms that spot warning signs after a rash of violent videos and hate speech posted by users on its network.

The company hired 3,000 new employees worldwide to review and react to reports of harm and harassment. The hires will be made over the next year. The move expands the company's workforce dedicated specifically to these concerns, increasing its current staff of 4,500 by nearly 70 percent.

Posts about sadness, or responses from friends asking if someone is okay are flagged, which then launches a live chat through Facebook Messenger, supplying a direct link to crisis organizations that can help immediately. You can also alert Facebook if a live stream shows signs of someone hurting themselves.

Owen said these are tools that could make a difference. 

"It doesn't just have to be the websites doing it. Teaching kids that they need to reach out to someone qualified when they see a friend or a peer that is struggling not just to each other. A lot of students lean on each other but they might not know what they need to do to help," said Owen.

Owen urges parents to be aware of the apps and websites their teens use and know how to use them as well. She said posts about depression, anger, sadness, or being unloved or unwanted are all signs Facebook is looking out for and Owen said parents should too. 

She stressed that detection is key, but talking to an at-risk teen is the next step, whether that be a counselor or teacher. 

"Having those conversations that can be really tough I mean it's not an easy conversation with a child, asking them directly if they're suicidal, but that could be what saves their life," said Owen. 

Amy Katcher, a spokesperson for the Hamilton County Board of Education, tells Channel 3 students and parents can utilize Centerstone. The not-for-profit offers community-based behavioral health care, a full range of mental health services, and substance abuse treatment. Katcher said Centerstone has counselors at several schools. 

Anyone with an emergency or who feels suicidal should call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889.

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