image02Could we help reduce the startling number of suicides in the United States, with an app? According to CDC.gov, 41,149 die by suicide per year — nearly 113 each day — and yet nearly half of those who die by suicide have visited a primary care provider in the month prior to their death. All providers and physicians must be able to recognize suicide risks and warnings.

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A new app, Suicide Safe, was recently released by the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).The app is free for download on iOS and Android devices.

Geared towards providers, Suicide Safe helps teach providers and their families about discussing suicidal ideation, with conversation starters.

The app also provides a referral finding tool that can use your device’s current location, plugging the provider in with community resources. This includes crisis phone numbers, downloadable patient materials, and finding behavioral health clinics in the area.

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Details, details details

The app features the SAFE-T five-step approach in assessing a patient’s suicide risk, including risk assessment measures and guidance on how to handle active suicidal ideation.

The app provides one interactive sample case study. Though this version only has one case — promising more in future releases — it’s quite comprehensive, discussing initial encounters and follow-up discussions with a patient who is reluctant to seek care.

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The downside, of course, is that there’s quite a lot of text to wade through — more than would be acceptable in a typical app. As a result, it feels like you’re reading a textbook more than using an app that takes full advantage of the interactivity that apps could provide.

This is a shame, as this could have been an excellent opportunity to teach good diagnosis and interview skills. Using a more interactive approach, such as that found in interactive text adventure games, could have not only demonstrated the complexity of suicide risk assessment, but allow users to actively practice their skills.

What could be better: user interface

The user interface, while fairly basic, is at least pleasing to look at. It’s very clear from the outset that this is a non-native user interface. First, the app does not obey font settings in Android, so if you have poor eyesight, this app will not accommodate users with such disabilities. Second, the app does away with scroll bars. And third, the app’s interface isn’t as responsive to taps as other apps.

Also could-be-better: offline connectivity

Much of the app still works offline. However, when it comes to finding behavioral health clinics and accessing externally-linked resources, the app complains that there is no Internet connection.
This mirrors the design pattern of poor implementation in apps that require connections. Thus, the app cannot fully function if used in a rural area or deep in a hospital with poor connectivity.

  • Price
    • Free
    • Very detailed, thorough information on risk assessments
    • Compelling patient case — although only one currently available
    • Links to external community and downloadable resources
  • Dislikes
    • Non-native UI means that interface more cumbersome to use and works in unexpected ways.
    • Community resources and search not available offline.
  • Overall

    Decent resource for providers who are new to suicide risk assessment, although it feels more like a repackaged mobile website.

  • Overall Score
  • User Interface

    While aesthetically appropriate for the content, the app’s non-native UI means that the interface is more cumbersome to use, works in unexpected ways, and does not obey system user interface settings.

  • Multimedia Usage

    No multimedia is provided. The app is very text-heavy with little interactivity.

  • Price

    The application is free to download to the public.

  • Real World Applicability

    For those who need to learn suicide risk assessment — a critical assessment in emergency and urgent care psychiatry — this provides a decent refresher.

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