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Facebook launches suicide prevention tool: Will it help?

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2011.

Paul Sakuma/(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Bullying and youth suicide has become the subject of intense debate and scrutiny in Canada in recent months, following the deaths of several teens who were tormented by their peers.

Now, Facebook has decided to step into the fray by offering help to those who may be having suicidal thoughts. The company introduced changes that allow any user to highlight content from a friend or acquaintance they believe may be the result of suicidal thoughts or behaviour. Once the user highlights the content, the person who posted it will receive a direct link to a private, online chat session with a counsellor.

The initiative, which will be available to Facebook users in Canada and the U.S., comes after several widely-reported of teen suicides, including Jamie Hubley, son of an Ottawa city councillor who was found dead in October, and 15-year-old Marjorie Raymond, a Quebec girl who was bullied by her peers. She killed herself last month.

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In Mr. Hubley's case, he wrote online postings in a blog about his emotional struggles, which many said stemmed from bullying he received over the fact he was gay.

Facebook hopes its new measures may help others facing suicidal thoughts or extreme psychological distress before it's too late.

But will it make a real difference, or is it just a token gesture to deal with a high profile problem?

As the days and months ahead unfold, it will become clear whether users actually decide to take advantage and report potentially suicidal postings they see on the site. Bystanders may be reluctant to flag content. At the same time, the tool could make the difference in a person's decision to take his or her own life.

Would you use this new feature if you thought an acquaintance was considering suicide? Do you think this tool will make a real difference?

Editor's Note: Marjorie Raymond was the Quebec teen who committed suicide. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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