Samaritans has teamed up with Facebook to create a pioneering new scheme allowing the 30 million people on Facebook in the UK to get help for a friend they believe is struggling to cope or feeling suicidal.

People concerned about a friend will be able to tell Samaritans via Facebook’s Help Centre, where they can report specific content such as status updates or wall posts. Facebook will then put Samaritans in touch with the distressed friend to offer their expert support.

This initiative runs in tandem with an awareness campaign through Samaritans’ Facebook Page, giving advice on supporting vulnerable friends such as how to spot the signs of distress and how to start a difficult conversation. Also on the Page will be messages from high profile celebrities backing the campaign.

Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive of Samaritans, said:

Through the popularity of Facebook, we are harnessing the power of friendship so people can get help. As a friend you are better placed to know whether someone close to you is struggling to cope or even feeling suicidal.

We want to remind people that if a friend says that life isn’t worth living, they should always be taken seriously. Facebook is a part of daily life for so many of us and we must make sure that people online have support when they need it.

Facebook’s Director of Policy for Europe, Richard Allan said:

We're pleased to welcome the expertise of a great partner in Samaritans. They will help to make our robust reporting system even more effective, as friends are encouraged to look out for one another on Facebook as they do in the real world. This supplements the number of ways to get help already available on Facebook, from our Help Centre to the reporting tools we offer.

Samaritans’ volunteers have welcomed the initiative. Sandra Forrester, director of Samaritans’ Northampton branch and part of the team responding to the Facebook referrals, said:

It is a brilliant idea that we team up with Facebook as it is another way for vulnerable people to know that we are here to support them, and that they aren’t alone.