Instagram Launches New Tool To Offer Mental Health Support

By Keri Blakinger 10/20/16

The new tool will allow users to anonymously send a message of help to those in need. 

Instagram Launches New Tool To Offer Mental Health Support

Instagram is now making it easier for troubled social media users to get help. 

Though it’s known as a place to share idyllic nature pics and stellar selfies, the social media site isn’t all pictures of butterflies and rainbows. It’s also been a haven for damaging images, like pro-anorexia and pro-self-harm posts. 

To combat that trend, Instagram is launching a new tool that allows users to anonymously flag posts about self-harm or other mental health issues. 

Once a picture is flagged, the user who put up the troubling image will see a message offering help: "Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we'd like to help."

Then, they’ll be given options to contact a helpline, talk to a friend or get tips. 

"We listen to mental health experts when they tell us that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress. At the same time, we understand friends and family often want to offer support but don't know how best to reach out," Instagram COO Marne Levine told Seventeen

"These tools are designed to let you know that you are surrounded by a community that cares about you, at a moment when you might most need that reminder."

Although some hashtags—like #thinspo, short for the pro-anorexia phrase “thinspiration”—are banned altogether, some potentially problematic tags fall into a gray area and are still allowed. But when users search any of those questionable tags, they’ll be directed to the same support page offering help. 

The social media company developed the new tool in coordination with the National Eating Disorders Association and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Real people who have struggled with eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts pitched in to come up with the right phrasing. 

In a related effort, Instagram has partnered with Seventeen to promote a body-positive hashtag, #PerfectlyMe. The tag is intended to highlight users sharing posts celebrating self-confidence. 

"#PerfectlyMe is a celebration of strength," Levine said. "It's about the strength of the support networks that we have seen grow steadily across Instagram, and the strength of individuals in these communities who are redefining beauty standards and building a culture of positivity."

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.