The National Eating Disorders Association, along with other groups working to prevent suicide and self-harm, collaborated with Instagram to create a new tool that directs users to help and resources.
Many Instagram users post photos that give an idealized version of their lives, but some users post photos on the social media platform as a cry for help. And it’s those latter users, who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts or self-injury, which Instagram is hoping to help with a new tool that it collaborated on with a number of groups, including the National Eating Disorders Association.
“It’s something we’re excited about,” said NEDA CEO Claire Mysko. “We’re thrilled to have their support in connecting others to resources.”
Here’s how it works: Say that a friend posts a photo with hashtags like #needthinspo or #imugly or even an image that causes you to worry that he or she is struggling with an eating disorder. You can anonymously report that post to Instagram, whose team will then review it. Instagram will decide whether it’s a threat of suicide or self-harm, and if they deem it is, a notification will be sent to the user who made the post, which reads, “Can we help?” followed by a longer message that 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.”
This notification offers three options for that help, including “talk to a friend,” “contact a helpline,” and “get tips and support.” Instagram worked with NEDA—as well as several dozen other organizations—to connect users with those helplines, tips, and support.
NEDA, who serves people affected by eating disorders as well as the people who are supporting those affected, has worked with Instagram and Facebook for years about the possibilities of using social media to connect people to help.
“Obviously with eating disorders and social media generally, there’s a lot of evolution in looking at how users are interacting with these platforms,” Mysko said. “So it has been an ongoing conversation about what’s happening and what we’re seeing in our communities and talking about the potential of using social media tools to direct people to help.”
Mysko said that with this particular tool, NEDA has leveraged its insight of the eating disorder community as well as its knowledge of early intervention to help Instagram “be able to direct people to resources at a point where they can benefit from it most.”
“We really see the value in meeting people where they are,” Mysko said. “And we know that in every demographic, but particularly the younger demographic, there are a lot of people who use social media all day and very day. …. So the ability to work with social media platforms to direct people to resources and help is hugely powerful.”
Mysko added that the conversations and collaboration between NEDA and social media platforms aren’t completely new. In fact, Mysko said that at NEDA’s conference a few weeks ago, there was a panel discussion with representatives from Facebook and Instagram “talking about the importance and the potential of social media companies in the intervention space—and providing support to users who might need help with eating disorders.”