(Reuters) - Facebook launched a new suicide prevention tool on Tuesday, giving users a direct link to an online chat with counselors who can help, the company said.
Friends are able to report suicidal behavior by clicking a report option next to any piece of content on the site and choosing suicidal content under the harmful behavior option, Facebook spokesman Frederic Wolens said.
Facebook will then email the user in distress a direct link for a private online chat with a crisis representative from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well as the group's phone number.
The new tool gives people who may not be comfortable picking up the phone a direct avenue to seek help.
"This was a natural progression from something we've been working on for a long time," Wolens said.
Users also have the ability to report suicidal behavior by going to the site's Help Center or search for suicide reporting forms. They can also use reporting links around the site.
Worried friends who reported the behavior will also receive a message to say it is being addressed, Wolens said.
Facebook, the most popular Web-based social networking site, has more than 800 million active users worldwide. The Palo Alto, California-based company was co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004.
The new suicide reporting tool will be made available to people who use Facebook in the United States and Canada.
Wolens said that all reporting on the site is done anonymously and so a distressed user will not know who reported the suicidal content.
Nearly 100 Americans die by suicide every day, according to the Surgeon General of the United States.
In the past year, more than 8 million Americans 18 or older had thought seriously about suicide, according to a blog post by the Surgeon General accompanying the release of the new Facebook tool.
Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Peter Bohan and Richard Chang