Adolescents on the Lookout for Suicidal Friends on Social Networking Sites

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There are opportunities to identify and intervene with suicidal adolescents through social media outlets. This study explored the effectiveness of using two types of persuasive messages to encourage adolescents to get help for Facebook friends who might be suicidal. Facebook-using adolescents (N = 299) were recruited to participate in an online survey within which a randomized experiment was embedded. More than one third of participants reported seeing Facebook friends post about suicide. Participants were randomly assigned in a 2x2x2 design to exposure or no exposure to suicide prevention information, a suicide intervention story, and a pre-test assessment. The effects of these conditions on participants' knowledge of what to do and their intentions to get adult help were examined. Participants exposed to information were more likely to report that they knew what to do for a suicidal friend; whereas those exposed to the story were more likely to express intentions to get adult help when presented with suicidal scenarios. Stories depicting social role models appear to be an effective way to encourage adolescents to take appropriate actions when friends post content suggestive of suicide on Facebook. Further research exploring how youth suicide prevention efforts can be integrated with social media is warranted.