Instagram has introduced a new tool aimed at helping users who suffer from mental illness and depression through encouragement from friends and family. Working in conjunction with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the company launched a feature last week that allows a user to anonymously flag any photo they deem worrisome posted by someone they think may be in need of help.
The feature sends users a note of support along with directions to resources where they can get help. “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time,” the message reads. “If you need support, we’d like to help.” The app also sends a message to the friend who flagged the picture, advising them how best to help a friend in need.
“When people are suicidal, or thinking about suicide, they are not looking for their friends to report them so much as they are looking for their friends to support them,” Dr. John Draper, project director for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, told International Business Times Friday.
Around 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, making it the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Many don’t have adequate access to treatment or support. By creating a web of support from fellow users on Instagram, the feature aims to help those in need while simultaneously educating people about depression and suicide. The idea is that people who are suicidal often spend time on the internet seeking support, so it's the best method to reach them.
“We need to be there in a way that doesn’t feel intrusive, that doesn’t feel forced. It needs to feel caring,” said Draper. “And how is that best delivered? By the people who care about them.”
The move toward mental health advocacy has been picking up among social media companies and there’s evidence to suggest they might be the best ones to do it. The more time spent on social media, the more likely people are to be depressed, a March study by the University of Pittsburgh found. This could be the result of several factors, including over-exposure to lives that seem picture perfect, as well as prevalent cyber-bullying.
Instagram isn’t the first social medium to explore tools to increase mental health. Facebook debuted a similar feature in the United States in 2015 and is looking to spread it globally. Blogging website Tumblr is now a leader in mental health advocacy on the internet, with blogs dedicated to helping those in need. When a Tumblr user searches phrases like "suicidal," "depressed" or "hopeless" on the site, they are redirected to a different realm offering links to available resources.
“Ultimately, what we’re looking to do is get friends talking with friends, so that people might be more likely to get help if their friends urge them to do so, or their friends might be more likely to give help and be supportive,” said Draper.