Mobile apps can help patients at risk of suicide, but there’s still work to be done

According to a study published in the scientific publication Harvard Review of Psychiatry, mobile applications can provide practical support for people with suicidal thoughts. In particular, applications based on a method called Momentary Ecological Intervention (EMI) may be a good option for managing patients at risk of suicide in situations where face-to-face care is not possible.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with additional concerns recently that rates could rise during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mobile apps represent a great opportunity to provide low-cost assistance available 24/7 for many patients at high risk of suicide, especially those who have already attempted to do so.

Of all the methods used, IMEs are a particularly promising approach to providing support to patients exactly when they need it. “For example, NDEs can enable patients to adopt coping strategies when experiencing a breakdown or to interact with the environment in different ways, such as contacting professionals or family members during a crisis,” write Dr. Baca-García and his co-authors. the paper.

Authors from various institutions in Spain identified 27 studies using different MIL interventions addressing suicide prevention. Eight of these studies targeted adolescents at risk of suicide.

The most common IME intervention used in these studies was to create a safety plan for the patient. “A safety plan consists of designing a series of strategies with the support of a clinician aimed at providing support during a suicidal crisis”, explain the researchers. Some apps show photos of loved ones, videos with relaxation techniques, or the quickest route to medical help. A second option involved cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches the patient specific strategies to control negative thoughts, as well as ways to manage stress and emotions.

Some studies have found evidence of decreased suicidal thoughts after using the app, while others have found no benefit. “These mixed results suggest that there is still a long way to go before [EMI interventions] can be systematically implemented in clinical practice,” Dr. Baca-García and colleagues wrote in the article.

On a positive note, the studies reported that patients continued to use the app during their treatment. Teenagers, in particular, are likely to benefit the most from new technologies compared to an older generation, as they are already very comfortable with digital technologies.

“The constant progress of technology leads us to believe in the great potential of [mobile health] interventions to contribute to the field of mental health,” conclude Dr. Baca-García and coauthors. “And mobile apps, with their ability to serve as an uninterrupted crisis response tool, represent a promising field of action for suicide prevention efforts.”

(1) Jiménez-Muñoz, Laura PsyD; Peñuelas-Calvo, Inmaculada MD, PhD; Díaz-Oliván, Isaac PsyD; Gutierrez-Rojas, Luis MD, PhD; Baca-García, Enrique MD, PhD; Porras-Segovia, Alejandro MD, PhD Suicide Prevention in Your Pocket: A Systematic Review of Momentary Ecological Interventions for Managing Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors, Harvard Review of Psychiatry: 3/4 2022 – Volume 30 – Issue 2 – p 85 -99 doi:10.1097/HRP.0000000000000331

Casey J. Nelson