Suicide Prevention Mobile Apps

As many of you may know, September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Coincidentally, about two weeks ago I came across a recently published article that reviewed iOS and Android mobile apps developed specifically for the prevention of suicide. The authors of this review make some very important points that I think should be shared regarding future development of mobile apps for this very timely topic.

The review included 27 suicide prevention apps for both iOS and Android platforms. The summary of their major findings for this group of mobile apps was that paid-for mobile apps were equivalent to the free mobile apps in terms of content and functionality. In addition, approximately one-fifth of the mobile apps collected either personal or location information, or both. The majority of the mobile apps had functionalities that were easy to use and utilized user-friendly language. There was little information, however, about the development and selection of content included in the mobile apps and how this content relates to suicide prevention (e.g., was content based upon evidence-based research, or just chosen at random). Lastly, almost half of the mobile apps lacked information about or connectivity to crisis hotlines, which the authors felt was likely the most important function of a suicide prevention mobile app.

The authors call for the creation of a set of best practices (with research-based evidence) to be used when developing a mobile app for such an important and sensitive area. The authors recommend that these suggested best practices include: focusing on the formation of key features that should be included in any mobile app that addresses suicide prevention; incorporating security for protecting personally identifiable information (including geolocation) as well as personal health information; and using minimal text that utilizes clear and concise language (e.g., no jargon). The reviewers also suggest that every mobile app designed for suicide prevention always have direct connection to crisis hotline phone numbers (e.g., tap-and-call functionalities).

I believe these recommendations for best practice guidelines are significant and relevant, and look forward to seeing such a publication in the future. Until the release of these needed guidelines, those who are interested in developing mobile apps for suicide prevention should look to the evidence-based research for making content decisions. This will help ensure the app provides adequate and accurate information to those who may be in desperate need of help as well as to those who may be in the position to support a person in a suicidal crisis.

Jae Osenbach, Ph.D. is a research psychologist and subject matter expert with the Mobile Health Program at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology (T2).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Telehealth & Technology, the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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