Mobile apps can provide practical support for people experiencing suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in the scientific publication Harvard Review of Psychiatry. In particular, apps based on a method called ecological momentary intervention (EMI) may be a good option for managing patients at risk of suicide in situations in which face-to-face care is not possible.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world, with added concerns recently that rates may be increasing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mobile apps represent an excellent opportunity to provide low-cost support available 24/7 for many patients at a high risk of suicide, especially those that have attempted before.
Out of all the methods used, EMIs are a particularly promising approach to deliver support for patients exactly when they need it. “For instance, EMIs may allow patients to adopt coping strategies when they experience a breakdown, or to interact with the environment in different ways, such as by contacting professionals or family members during a crisis,” Dr. Baca-García and coauthors write in the paper.
The authors from various institutions in Spain identified 27 studies using different EMI interventions dealing with suicide prevention. Eight of these studies targeted adolescents at risk of suicide.
The most common EMI intervention used in these studies involved creating 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 at the time of a suicidal crisis,” the researchers explain. Some apps show pictures of loved ones, videos with relaxation e techniques, or the quickest route to get medical help. A second option involved cognitive behavioural therapy, which teaches the patient specific strategies to control negative thoughts, as well as ways to manage stress and emotions.
Some studies found evidence of decreased suicidal thoughts after using the app, while others found no benefits. “These mixed results suggest that there is still a long way to go before [EMI interventions] can be routinely implemented in clinical practice,” Dr. Baca-García and colleagues wrote in the paper.
On a positive note, the studies reported that patients continued using the app during their treatment. Adolescents, in particular, are likely to benefit most from new technologies compared to an older generation, as they are already very comfortable using digital technologies.
“The constant advance of technology leads us to believe in the great potential for [mobile health] interventions to contribute to the field of mental health,” Dr. Baca-García and coauthors conclude. “And mobile applications, with their ability to serve as an uninterrupted tool for crisis response, represent a promising field of action for suicide-prevention efforts.”
(1) Jiménez-Muñoz, Laura PsyD; Peñuelas-Calvo, Inmaculada MD, PhD; Díaz-Oliván, Isaac PsyD; Gutiérrez-Rojas, Luis MD, PhD; Baca-García, Enrique MD, PhD; Porras-Segovia, Alejandro MD, PhD Suicide Prevention in Your Pocket: A Systematic Review of Ecological Momentary Interventions for the Management of Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors, Harvard Review of Psychiatry: 3/4 2022 – Volume 30 – Issue 2 – p 85-99 doi: 10.1097/HRP.0000000000000331