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This new Instagram feature will change how we respond to mental health struggles

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Hands up if you’ve ever experienced this: you’re casually scrolling through Instagram when you notice, nestled amongst all the pretty brunch pictures and contouring tutorial videos, a post that seems like a cry for help. It leaves you feeling worried about the poster – but what can you do to help? 

A new Instagram feature, rolled out this week, could be the key to providing support. Now, if you feel like someone’s posts suggest they are struggling with their mental health, you can now anonymously flag your concern via the “Report” tool.

Previously, selecting to report a post as inappropriate on Instagram would take you to a list of possible reasons for concern including “nudity or pornography”, “hate speech or symbols”, and “sale or promotion of drugs”. Now, however, you can also use the “Report” tool to alert Instagram if someone has been posting about self-harm, suicide or eating disorders.

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What an Instagram user will see if someone flags one of their posts as concerning.

Once you have made your anonymously report, the person will receive a message from Instagram saying: “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.”

They will then be presented with options that can be accessed directly through the app, including a helpline (based on their location), talking to a friend, or getting suggestions for ways to support themselves.

Instagram will also offer the alert automatically to any users who search for hashtags linked to self-harm. Some terms are already banned from Instagram – search for the eating disorder-promoting hashtag #thinspo, for example, and you’ll get no results. But other phrases are slightly more oblique in their meaning, and the new Instagram feature is designed to help in these cases. 


Read more: Would you have noticed this girl's alcoholism on Instagram?


Instagram consulted organisations including the National Eating Disorders Association and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on how to phrase the notification, to make sure that the wording was sensitive and responsible.

“We listen to mental health experts when they tell us that outreach from a loved one can make a real difference for those who may be in distress,” Marne Levine, Instagram COO, told Seventeen. “At the same time, we understand friends and family often want to offer support but don’t know how best to reach out.

“These tools are designed to let you know that you are surrounded by a community that cares about you, at a moment when you might most need that reminder.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, you can find advice at Mind. If you require eating disorder support, visit B-eat, the UK's eating disorder charity.

Images: iStock, Instagram

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