The Rise of Suicide Prevention Apps / The Feed SBS2

See the original publication of this article at The Feed

*NB: This story won a 2014 Ossie award in student journalism for the Mindframe for Journalism Educators Prize for mental health reporting.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for young Australians, and there are a rising number of apps being developed locally, all aimed at prevention. Matt Dee, a lifeguard from Bondi Rescue, has been touched by suicide multiple times.

“I lost my brother to suicide and one year after that I lost my sister. Shortly after that, I lost one of my best friends, and numerous other friends. For some bizarre reason I have been surrounded by suicide all my life.”

After struggling with his own demons, Matt co-founded FTW Revolution, a company that uses clothing apparel and events to raise funds for Suicide Prevention Australia. FTW stands for “fuck the world”, a phrase Matt heard his mother say frequently when he was growing up. The company aims to connect with marginalised youths who don’t find existing mental health services appealing.

“It’s quite confusing navigating the mental health system here in Australia, it’s a task in itself. A whole demographic of hard edge, black sheep style kids have been completely forgotten about, due to the conservative nature of the majority of our social services.”

FTW are currently designing an app that aims to extend upon their connection with the young people who reach out to their organisation.

FTW Logo

Watch the on-air story here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPPsoupBapc

Warwick Heathwood, who is working on the design and development of the app, says the objective is to “mobilise a community of brand followers to be in constant, helpful contact, with at-risk youth.” FTW want their app to represent a constant point of access for those seeking help.

“A big part of the early versions of the app will be about connecting people with the services they need. The method we’re really working on is how to build a daily utility into the app. We’ve been interested in some of the mood tracking type apps because they have that daily tracking behavior. But it’s not quite FTW – so we’re thinking about how that type of behavior could feel relevant in the type of communities we operate in.” FTW are aiming to launch their app this summer.

The suicide rate for Indigenous youth is five times higher than the national average. Dr. Fiona Shand, from the Black Dog Institute, is the lead researcher on the production of an app called ‘iBobbly’. This app aims to reduce suicide rates in Indigenous communities, and has been designed in consultation with local communities in the West Kimberley, where there is a high mobile phone penetration. The name of the app is taken from the common colloquial greeting in the area – “hey bobbly”.

Dr. Shand claims ‘iBobbly’ is the first evidence-based suicide-prevention app that is being developed in Australia.

“Because we’re first and foremost researchers, the strength of iBobbly is that it will have evidence behind it. We’re really hoping iBobbly lives up to its early promise as an effective tool in reducing suicidal thinking and behaviours. If that is the case, we’d like to see it disseminated widely.”

iBobbly uses a range of interactive exercises to encourage mood management and reaching out for help. The app is to undergo a national pilot trial next year. Dr. Shand explains the rationale behind the app.

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iBobbly aims to use local cultural references to reach vulnerable Indigenous kids. (UNSW)

“We tend to have an automatic response to distress and if we can retrain that automatic response, we may be able to reduce unhelpful responses. Because we tend to have our smart devices with us most of the time, they provide an opportunity for people to do this kind of activity anywhere.”

Dr. Shand is optimistic about the role of technology in suicide prevention. The Black Dog Institute and Australian National University are currently running a trial testing the effectiveness of web-based intervention in suicidal thinking. Dr. Shand says there are further avenues that app developers could explore.

“One area that we’re interested in is an app that can help people engaged in treatment after a suicide attempt. This kind of app could be integrated with health systems to assist with continuity of care. There is some evidence that even minimal contact after a suicide attempt can be beneficial.”

The rise of suicide prevention apps is diverse in its creators. Deli Baker is a psychologist from regional Victoria who self-funded three apps aimed at reaching vulnerable people and advising those who are worried about loved ones.

“I found myself with a number of clients in remote areas who were, more or less, in semi-permanent suicidal states. One of my clients would talk to me from the top of a shipping container and one from a car park at 4 in the morning, he’s in the army.”

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Deli’s apps, including ‘R U Suicidal?’ went through numerous versions before launch, as she sought feedback from clients, who advised stripping back clinical language. An essential component in creating these apps is testing whether they work.

Mariana García, from Coffs Harbour, suffers from bipolar disorder and lost her partner to suicide less than a year ago. She has used a range of mental health apps, including the thought management tool ‘ACTCompanion’, but prefers to use Twitter to engage with others. Andrew McDonald, a writer from Sydney who experiences periods of depression, agrees that interaction with others is crucial.

“I’ve never really thought about a smartphone device as a means of help. But I do regularly find myself spending late nights on various forums and social media group sites dedicated to depression, talking to people who understand, asking for help, offering it as well.”

Wawick Heathwood from FTW says this is exactly the kind of thinking that their app is trying to incorporate.

“That’s part of the essence of the brand, it’s kind of an unwritten social contract. By wearing this brand you agree to be a beacon of hope for any young people dealing with some heavy shit.”

If you’re having issues with mental health or depression, you can call Lifeline on 13 14 11.

For more information about FTW Revolution and their work with Suicide Prevention Australia, visit their site here (http://www.ftwrevolution.com/)

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