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Gov. Anti-Suicide Plan Relies on Facebook

In Suicide Prevention Week, the US government launches a strategy with an extra focus on teens and veterans.

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By Chrisanne Grise

09/10/12

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This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the US government has released a new plan to help those struggling with self-harm and self-destruction—which of course are behaviors closely tied to addiction. The new strategy will rely heavily on a new Facebook service that will allow users to report suicidal comments made by friends; the plan is to then follow up with an email urging the friend to call a prevention hotline, or speak in confidence with an online counselor. "All too often, people in crisis do not know how—or who—to ask for help," says Marne Levine, Facebook's global vice president for public policy. "We have a unique opportunity to provide the right resources to our users in distress, when and where they need them most." Suicide is a mounting problem in the US, killing over 36,000 Americans a year—that's more than double the rate of death by homicide. Over eight million adults seriously contemplated taking their own lives last year, estimates the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But experts say that encouraging people to talk about their feelings—especially with trained professionals—can save lives.

The new suicide prevention plan will also focus on the 23 million veterans in the US; the number of suicides in this group rose from to 10,888 in 2009 to 17,754 last year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. "Suicide is one of the most challenging issues we face," says Army Secretary John McHugh. "In the Army, suicide prevention requires soldiers to look out for fellow soldiers. We must foster an environment that encourages people in need to seek help and be supported." The plan, which also includes $55.6 million in grant funding for prevention programs, is the first new scheme in over 10 years to tackle suicide. "It takes the entire community to prevent suicides. It's not just one individual," says US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. "We all can play a role."

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