Facebook Launches New Tool to Aid Veterans and Service Members in Distress

A new program launched by social media giant Facebook aims to assist veterans and active members of the armed forces by directing them to helpful resources when their content is flagged as suicidal or harmful.

The initiative expands on a program that Facebook started in December, which allows concerned friends to identify potentially suicidal material by clicking a link next to it.  The user in distress then receives an email from Facebook with information about suicide prevention and resources.

Blue Star Families, an organization for military support, joined with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help Facebook launch the program for service members.  Blue Star Families said in a statement that while military families could already take advantage of Facebook’s existing program, “there are several specific resources provided to our nation’s military that we wanted to make sure they were aware of at their time of need.”

Engineers at Facebook determined a way to identify past and present members of the armed forces.  If these users post comments that are flagged as suicidal, they will receive information about resources such as The Veterans Crisis Line.

Suicide among American military family members is a grave and growing concern.  Blue Star Families conducted a survey of 2,891 members of military families and found that 10% had contemplated suicide, while 9% knew a service member who had considered suicide.

Many participants in the survey said that there is still a stigma within the military about mental health counseling.  Rather than recommend such programs, military leaders will often tell distressed service members to “soldier on” or “suck it up.”

Facebook may be an effective way to refer service members or veterans in crisis to the resources they need, as 86% of military families who use Facebook say they use it every day.

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