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Mental illness remains one of the leading but least talked about issues in India. At this stage where we are the second-most populous country in the world, India is stuck in doldrums with about 15% if its population affected by global mental, neurological and substance use disorder burden. This number will increase by a quarter by 2025. To add to this, the highest numbers of suicides occurring in the world are committed by Indians.
Where the government is finally waking up to this, many efforts by NGOs and renowned organizations are coming to limelight. A step towards this has been taken by social networking site Facebook.
The organization introduced a 'Help A Friend in Need' guide in the US some time back in partnership with The Jed Foundation and The Clinton Foundation. And now, with updated tools and educational resources, this guide is launched in India to help support people who may be struggling with self-injury or may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Why we need this in India
In a country like India, not only are people unaware if a person close to them is suffering from mental illness, but what’s worse is that people take these are trivial matters with more important concerns at hand. We become so numb to how we talk to those affected by it that we cannot even imagine the effect a few words can cause. Many try to showcase their feelings through platforms like social media websites looking for a way out, but ask yourself if you would take it seriously just because of the medium they chose?
Hoping to counter the same problem, Facebook has updated its tool with an Indian audience in mind. Developed in collaboration with mental health organizations and with input from people who have personal experience with self-injury and suicide, these tools were first launched in the US with the help of Forefront, Lifeline, and Save.org. Now, they are rolling them out in India in collaboration with local partners - AASRA and The Live Love Laugh Foundation - in English and Hindi. With the help of these new tools, if a post by someone on Facebook makes you concerned about their well-being, you can reach out to them directly — and you can also report the post to the team.
With teams working around the world, 24/7, who review reports that come in, the most serious reports like self-injury will be prioritized, and help and resources would be send to those in distress. People can now choose to reach out to a friend, contact a helpline, or see tips. Vulnerable users will then be encouraged to connect to the AASRA India helpline or the Live Love Laugh Foundation or a friend. They can seek self-help advice from resources and tips provided on how they can work through these feelings.
Expanding on the topic, Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director, Facebook India, South & Central Asia, said, “Often, friends and family who are the observers in these types of situations don’t know what to do. They’re concerned, but they’re worried about saying the wrong thing or somehow making it worse. Socially, mental illness and thoughts about suicide are just not something we talk about. Facebook is a place where people connect and share, and one of the things we have learnt from the mental health partners and academics we have worked with on this issue, is that being connected is a protective factor in suicide prevention. We care deeply about the safety and well-being of the 148 million people in India who use Facebook to connect with the person who matter to them and recognise there’s an opportunity with these tools and resources to connect someone who is struggling with a person they already have a relationship with.”
Actress Deepika Padukone who had battled with depression in the past is now reaching out to people going through the same. Through her The Live Love Laugh Foundation, she has committed to reduce stigma and create awareness around mental health in India. She herself has been an inspiration to all by bringing out the issue in the open by sharing what she went through.
Speaking about this needful collaboration with Facebook, she said, “Suicide is a complex issue but the causal relationship between mental health and suicide is well established. The rate of suicide amongst the youth in India is one of the highest in the world. We are happy to partner with Facebook in this suicide prevention initiative. It is especially important to reach out to young people out there who are feeling depressed and encourage them to reach out for help. Society as a whole needs to be educated about this so that we are sensitized to signs of depression in our friends, neighbours and relatives and can guide them towards expert assistance.”
To help those in need further, the collaboration is introducing a Help A Friend in Need guide in India. This guide will help people identify when someone is distressed and what steps to take to get help. The guide also offers suggestions on how to approach their friend, what to say, how to react and what to avoid. It gives people the skills to reach out without fear of making the situation worse. The guide will be available in English, Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu and Marathi.
Spreading the help for quite some time now, AASRA had teamed up with Facebook previously as well. Director of the organization, Johnson Thomas states, “Facebook’s new tool is another step forward in helping to prevent suicide. We hope that by providing critical resources for people who may be thinking about suicide or self-injury and their concerned friends and family members will help those in need take the first step towards rekindling hope and seeking help at a time when everything seems hopeless and bleak.”
Where countless hours are spent just checking the News Feed, now it’s time to actually make a difference through it. And by the looks of it, it isn’t that hard, is it? So keep your eyes open and help friend in need.