Depression is already a difficult monster to grapple with during any time of year, but holidays can exacerbate the intensity of that illness and, sadly, cause depressive individuals to contemplate suicide more seriously than usual. Blame the added stress of the holiday festivities, the increased despondence felt by absent family or friends, or the acute and insufferable awareness that you are not as joyful as those around you - whatever it is, the holidays can be brutal on a person vulnerable to depression.
Given that online activity, whether through search engines or social media sites, has become so interwoven into the fabric of our lives, it shouldn't come as a surprise that people with suicidal inclinations may resort to the Internet for support, information, or even assistance in trying to commit suicide. Acknowledging this phenomenon, Google and Facebook, perhaps the two largest online entities today, have taken steps to hopefully redirect people exhibiting thoughts of suicide.
Although the service has been around since Spring 2010, Google will insert information about prevention for searches that indicate a person may be considering suicide. I tested this out and Googled several suicide-likely phrases ("how to kill myself," "suicide," and "I want to die") in the search engine. Although I got different returns for each search, the following information for how to contact a suicide hotline was promoted at the top of my page every time:
Unfortunately, that kind of information will only be displayed with Google.com, Google UK, and Google Australia. In a recent thread on HackerNews about depression, Google's Matt Cutts responded to a post from a user that lamented the lack of suicide prevention information for other countries. While Cutts said that getting the numbers for different countries "might be tricky," he did agree to pass the request on (though, really Google - how hard is that to do?)
Facebook has implemented a more direct line of intervention by allowing users to now report suicidal content to Facebook. The social media site launched a new reporting service yesterday that will put users who post statements or material that indicates they could be suicidal in touch with a crisis counselor through a chat messaging system. A person must be reported by one of their friends before being contacted by a counselor, but after that they will be able to chat with a prevention specialist from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to receive assistance with their crisis.
The process for reporting a potentially suicidal Facebook user isn't exactly clear cut on their site as I couldn't find any option that allowed me to report someone immediately. I ended up doing a search on Google for "how to report suicidal content facebook" and quickly found my way to this page:
In addition to following the links for immediate assistance, by clicking on the link to report suicidal content to Facebook, a user will arrive at here:
Additionally, here is the link for the page to report suicidal content on Facebook.
If anyone you know has posted statements on Facebook that indicate they may be at risk for suicide, please do not hesitate to notify Facebook. Also, if anyone you know has expressed any intent to possibly commit suicide, do not hesitate to get them help.