14/06/2016 6:30 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST

EXCLUSIVE: Facebook Is Launching A Suicide Prevention Feature In India With Deepika Padukone's NGO

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Sad young woman at the beach.

If you see a post on Facebook from a friend that worries you, and you're concerned about their emotional health, you can now alert mental health professionals using a new feature on the social networking site that helps them get access to counselling services.

Facebook India on Tuesday rolled out a suicide prevention feature, similar to ones released earlier for users in US and UK, that will help Indian users flag friends' posts where they appear to be struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

“Often, friends and family who are the observers in these types of situations don't know what to do," said Ankhi Das, the public policy director for Facebook in India, South & Central Asia. "They're concerned, but they're worried about saying the wrong thing or somehow making it worse."

Even though in the past, the most number of suicides in the world have taken place in India, and it continues to have a sizeable number of people suffering from depression, mental illness and suicidal thoughts are difficult topics of discussion in Indian society.

Facebook's research and discussions from mental health partners and academics have revealed that being connected in a social setting—as in the social networking site—is a "protective factor in suicide prevention", Das said. Earlier today, a depressed Gurgaon youth posted a suicide note, but friends who saw the update alerted cops and helped prevent their friend from taking the extreme step.

"They're concerned, but they're worried about saying the wrong thing or somehow making it worse."

Around 148 million people in India use Facebook. "We recognise there's an opportunity with these tools and resources to connect someone who is struggling with a person they already have a relationship with,” said Das.

Statistics show that 1,31,666 people committed suicide in India in 2014. That's 15 suicides every hour. Most of these cases were reported from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal—states which are on three different ends of the country. Suicides are more frequent in Indian cities than villages.

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The leading cause of suicide is "family problems", according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Illness and academic stress are common reasons for Indian children to take this extreme step.

In India, Facebook has partnered with two local non-profit organisations—AASRA and The Live Love Laugh Foundation—who will run the helplines where Facebook users will be referred to, if they are in need of assistance. The Live Love Laugh Foundation has partnered with iCall, an helpline run out of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which will provide free psychosocial counselling.

Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone, who founded The Live Love Laugh Foundation last year after battling depression and anxiety, said, "Society as a whole needs to be educated about this so that we are sensitized to signs of depression in our friends, neighbours and relatives and can guide them towards expert assistance."

Meanwhile AASRA's 24x7 helpline, that has been operational since 1998, will also be available to those in need. Its director Johnson Thomas explained that the organisation has been working with Facebook for several years on this front. Their research shows that Indians in the age group of 15-45 years constitute the "highest risk age group for committing suicide", mirroring worldwide trends.

How To Use The Suicide Prevention App On Facebook

If you spot a post from a friend on Facebook that you think indicates he or she could be thinking about self harm, you can click a little arrow at the top right of the post and click “Report Post.” You will be able to either reach out to the friend directly using the arrow or ask another mutual friend for support. A third option will be to contact either AASRA or The Live Love Laugh Foundation helplines.

If you report a friend's post, it will be completely anonymous, said Das.

Once Facebook receives a notification of the post, it will get in touch with the Facebook user and suggest ways for them to cope.