Social Media Offers New Ways To Support Friends With Eating Disorders or Suicidal Thoughts

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Social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat have been criticized for creating a space where pro-eating disorder groups can grow and spread the idea that being thin is more important than being healthy. However, Instagram is taking steps to make sure people can help if they think a friend may have an eating disorder or suicidal thoughts.

The photo sharing platform has launched a new tool that lets users anonymously reach out and connect other users with helplines and support information if that person’s health may be at risk.

The new tool works by letting users report photos for “self-injury” – which Instagram defines as content with “eating disorders, cutting, or promoting suicide.” When reported, the app will send a message to the user who posted the photo containing resources for support and crisis help lines.

The message says: “Someone saw one of your posts and thinks you might be going through a difficult time. If you need support, we’d like to help.”

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Users that receive this message can choose to ignore it or select to “see support resources”, including “talking to a friend,” “contact a helpline,” and “get tips and support.”

The new tool is the result of a collaboration between Instagram and prominent mental health organizations including the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“I think a lot of times when we think about eating disorder-related content on social media, there’s a lot of focus on removing that content or putting warnings around that content, which is certainly important,” Claire Mysko, CEO of NEDA, told SELF magazine. “But we also want to think about what’s going on with the people who are posting it, and that was really the driver for us. If you are posting eating disorder-related content, that is an indication that you are either at risk or might be struggling. We wanted to make sure that people were able to get to help when they needed it.”

Users can use the tool to report posts including images or captions showing self-harm or eating disorder behaviors, but users may also look at larger patterns like posts suggesting an obsession with food, weight, or body image. Mysko explains, “If you’re seeing patterns in what someone’s posting where all their posts are related to wanting to lose weight or feeling bad about their body, that’s something to be concerned about, too.”

It is highly unlikely that everyone who sees the message will accept the offer of support, but Mysko says it can still have an impact further down the road. “If it plants a seed or it gives them an indication that there is help available, that’s a positive thing,” she said.

The move could help Instagram change its reputation from being a platform that contributes to eating disorders in young impressionable teens. Hopefully, it will make it easier for friends and family to intervene when they become concerned about someone’s health, even if they are nervous about doing so face-to-face.

If you think you or someone you know may be living with an eating disorder or suicidal thoughts, give us a call at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and find the right treatment plan for you.

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