Reddit has long been a favored platform for people in emotional distress, with the subreddit r/SuicideWatch dating back to December 2008. Now, the company is taking a more active role in helping struggling users. On Wednesday, Reddit announced it will now automatically send any user with a post flagged for potential self-harm a message with a link to the Crisis Text Line, a text-based suicide prevention hotline.
Suicide among 10- to 24-year-olds grew 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the CDC. People are drawn to subreddits such as r/SuicideWatch, r/depression, or r/addiction as a way of airing their experiences and finding other people who are feeling or have felt similar things. Subreddits are also attractive because of the anonymity Reddit provides and because posters don’t have to worry that someone will call emergency services if they speak freely. But this freedom is a blessing and a curse, since Reddit has not been able to intervene if someone appears likely to hurt themselves.
While the groups can be supportive, there is a limit to what Reddit can do as a platform for someone who is at risk of hurting themselves or others. Similar to users on Facebook, Redditors have the ability to flag posts that are concerning. However, that merely puts the post in line for one of Reddit’s second-level moderators to respond to manually (these moderators also assess posts that have been flagged for abuse). Upon receiving this flag, these moderators send the person who posted the flagged comment to a page with resources about help lines. Often, there was a significant lag in time between when the post went up and when moderators sent the poster resources.
As a result, first-level moderators, the ones who preside over the subreddit, largely had to take on the role of communicating with posters who seem like they might be thinking about suicide.
“We’re lucky that some of the moderators of these communities are experts and are actual counselors and seek out the work because they love it,” says Reddit’s chief technology officer, Chris Slowe. “But we want to make sure that we provide the best care to users, knowing that there’s only so much we can really do.”
Now, when posts are flagged for self-harm, the user will automatically receive a direct message with contact information for the Crisis Text Line and a recommendation that they speak with a crisis counselor. Reddit will also automatically send a direct message to the person who initially flagged the post, thanking them for helping a fellow Redditor in crisis and asking if they would like support themselves.
Though Reddit has not always formally taken action to connect people with outside care, the platform has long hosted threads for mental health support. Why is Reddit focusing on integrating a connection with Crisis Text Line now? “We’ve generally been increasing our investment in overall user safety for the last couple of years and working through what are the major pain points and where can we have the biggest impact,” Slowe says.
To speak confidentially with a counselor, text CHAT to 741741 or call 1-800-273-8255.