If you’ve ever been worried that your friend is posting things on Instagram that look like they might be thinking about suicide, the app has a new tool that can help. There is now a button that lets users anonymously flag their friend’s posts about self-harm or suicide, and the reporting tool has been praised by a Hong Kong mental health charity.
When you see a photo you're concerned about, hit "Report" then "It's inappropriate", and you can choose a reason for reporting this post: including self injury, harm or violence.
The new tool, which was previously available on Facebook, now allows users to send an alert about specific posts if they think a friend or family member could be at risk.
Instagram will then send a message to the vulnerable user with a list of options, including contacting a friend, a helpline, or viewing further tips and support.
A spokesman for the Samaritans Hong Kong, which collaborated with the Hong Kong Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong on the issue, said the tool could have a “real impact between life and death” of a social media user.
“We are proud to work with Instagram and glad that it is taking steps in addressing the issue of suicide and self-harm” he said. “As we spend more time online sharing our feelings and life on social media, knowing and being able to pick up the tell-tale signs and intervene can have real impact between the life and death of someone we care about.
“Suicide can often be prevented by timely and proper intervention and it is encouraging that Instagram is recognising the importance of such intervention and bridging that gap.”
Emily Cheng, research assistant professor at the HKU centre, also welcomed the new tool. She said studies on recent suicides had shown victims often posted distressed messages on social media before taking their lives.
“We appreciate that Facebook is expanding its suicide prevention efforts to Instagram, as more and more younger people are using this platform,” she said.
Hong Kong academics and mental health campaigners have been calling for better support services as the suicide rate among young people rises.
Almost 40 per cent of the city’s young people have considered suicide due to stress associated with studying and work, according to a 2015 study of people aged 11 to 30 by Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong.
A spokesman for Instagram said it hoped the button would serve as a useful support for concerned friends and families.
“With the help of these new tools, if the user appears at risk, Instagram will send him or her ways to get help”, he said.