SUPPORT during a mental health crisis can be crucial but sometimes it’s hard to access. From the deep black hole of despair it may seem there is no way forward, no way out and nothing to live for.
If that support is not forthcoming, the consequences can be dire — for the individual, their family, friends and the wider community.
To help counter the tragic loss of life through suicide, beyondblue will today launch its latest suicide prevention tool, the BeyondNow smartphone app.
The world-first smartphone app and website, created in partnership with Monash University and funding from The Movember Foundation, enables people — in consultation with their GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists and carers — to create personal safety plans to use when they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or are in a suicidal crisis.
Beyondblue research found men prefer to solve their own problems and are highly protective of their privacy, often — critically — not seeking support until they are in crisis.
Women are more likely to seek help earlier and suicide statistics back up the importance of this support, with figures showing women are much less likely to attempt suicide than men.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, among 15-44-year-old, suicide is the leading cause of death, with data released this week showing that almost eight Aussies killed themselves every day in 2014 — three-quarters of them men. It makes the suicide rate the highest in the past decade. Monash University researchers estimate that every week 1250 people attempt suicide and 7000 think about it.
People using the app, either on their own or with professional help, think through and develop a list of warning signs, coping strategies, reasons for living and ways to make their environment safe. It also has in-built Australian crisis phone numbers and sections for social support and professional contacts.
It is designed to be filled in when a person is stable, before reaching crisis point, so it can be used in a crisis.
“If you are suicidal, this is your emergency plan,” says Professor Barbara Stanley of Columbia University, a leading suicide experts who has helped develop BeyondNow. “When you are in a suicidal state you are not thinking clearly.
“We say you don’t have to think clearly, you just have to follow this plan. You don’t have to think, just do.”
BeyondNow is based in part on safety plans, which are not new in the mental health field. Psychologists have used them as written documents for many years but beyondblue research found they were too easily misplaced or forgotten in times of crisis.
And most crises do not play out in front of a mental health professional. The safety plan app will instead be in the palm of a person’s hand on their smartphones, tablet, or computer and easily accessed.
Carlo Laruccia believes the new app he helped develop will be critical in giving people a powerful insight when going through a crisis.
“It’s in the palm of your hands not buried away on a piece of paper sitting on someone’s desk,” he said.
The BeyondNow app has people identify in advance what are some of the things they can do to distract themselves from their dangerous thought patterns, friends, family and people they can reach out to in the community to give them another focus and, if the suicidal thoughts continue, the emergency numbers to call.
“We know the intense urge to actually act on suicidal thoughts lingers for just a very brief time. If you get someone through that brief period them you are home in terms of them acting on these suicidal feelings,” Stanley says.
“We identify things that are very engaging, that take their mind off their problems so they don’t notice the passage of time — things they can do on their own. If that doesn’t work, use social networks in some way and talk to people in their lives that can take their mind off things for a while.”
Of course, if the feelings persist, it’s important to get professional help.
“We are not saying every single time you feel suicidal to call your doctor or 000. You have to learn to deal with the anxiety or panic. We can teach them how to deal with it,” Stanley says
The point of difference is having all the information in one place on an app that can be completely private and a secret known only to the user, or completed in conjunction with a person’s GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist or other support services.
“We know that people who are much more likely to die by suicide are men,” Stanley says.
“As people get older almost no females that are old kill themselves and yet the older male population is at greatly increased risk. So then you look at who goes for help for medical conditions — for cardiac complaints, stomach ache or psychiatric conditions — and it’s not men, but women who go for help.
“Data actually shows that not only do men not like to go for help, but when things do get so bad they go for help they wait much longer than women.
“There are going to be people who are not going to go for help but you want to be able to give that help and with this app you give them something they can do with no-one else knowing they are doing it. They can do it by themselves as a self-help tool.
“And that might just make it much more likely they will use a tool like this.”
And for young people, the digital and online world is the way they live.
As well as individuals using the app as a self-help measure, Stanley is confident it will gain wide acceptance among mental health professionals and be used within clinical care.
Importantly, the app also includes a “sharing” function so the safety plan can be shared via email with important support people.
Stanley was in Australia last month briefing local mental health specialists on into suicide prevention and how the app could be used in a clinical setting.
Dr Glenn Melvin, clinical and counselling psychologist at Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, who was involved in development of the app with beyondblue, said BeyondNow was designed to be used by clinicians and their patients, but also in a self-directed way.
“When people find themselves with a suicide crisis developing, the capacity to think straight can be in some way compromised. You have a plan that is already populated that you don’t have to go fishing for,” Melvin says.
“The feedback from clinicians has been very positive. They can see how easily they will be able to incorporate something like this in to their work.”
The BeyondNow app can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play. Check out beyondblue.org.au/beyond-now for more details.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can also contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
This article first appeared on ‘Herald Sun’ on 11 March 2016.