App Companies Want to Help Prevent Suicide

By Elisabeth Buchwald

The deaths of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain have highlighted America’s rising suicide rate and the need for suicide prevention, but it doesn’t always come from talk therapy or a suicide hotline. App developers are creating tools to help struggling people during their most vulnerable moments.

“Technology and social media have become a big part of people’s lives,” said Shari Sinwelski, the associate project director at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “So we need to take efforts to reach people where they are.”

Here’s a look at the latest innovations:

Developed in partnership with Link2Health Solutions (L2HS), the administrator of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is a subsidiary of the nonprofit organization, Mental Health Association of New York City and the California Mental Health Services Authority, a coalition of county governments, the application known as “MY3” gives users the ability to stay connected to their chosen network of three contacts when they are in a time of crisis.

Users pick three contacts they feel comfortable reaching out to when they’re in a state of crisis. The app advises users to select at least one mental health professional in addition to two of their friends.

“In general a professional is more trained to deal with clinical related issues and provide someone with clinical support,” said Dr. John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, who was involved in the development of the app and has advised Facebook in their own efforts to help prevent suicide.

Having said that, friends can provide a different form of support that professionals cannot. “Professionals are less likely to say, ‘I love you and I need you and I’m here for you,’” Draper said.

After the individual picks out three people to include in their network, they are then prompted to create a safety plan which has six separate sections. For instance, one section asks users to identify three behaviors that serve warning signs that they are thinking of suicide. The final section of the safety plan instructs users to complete the following sentence: “The one thing that is most important to me and worth living for is…”.

As Draper explained, the structure of the safety plan acts as a form of self-care. Even if they have not spoken to someone about their thoughts of suicide, it can prompt someone to consider how they should go about getting help.

Currently, there are few suicide prevention apps available. However, apps like Stay Alive, which was developed by the U.K.-based charity Grassroots Suicide Prevention, and Operation Reachout, offer comparable features to the MY3 app for those seeking suicide prevention support for themselves or for their loved ones. It was developed by a company known as The Guidance Group, and is aimed towards providing support for veteran and military families.

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