Suicide remains one of the most challenging public health problems in the world. Despite numerous efforts of all types, the prevalence of suicide remains stable over time. With all the heft of this challenge in mind, researchers continue to innovate and search for ways to address this daunting problem.

Recently, researchers in Australia set out to put a dent in the problem of suicide in Indigenous communities in the country using an Android medical app called “ibobbly.” The app was developed in partnership with Indigenous community members from Kimberley, Western Australia and included imagery from Indigenous artists.

The researchers focused their efforts on 18- 35 year old Australians in indigenous communities. Their overall goal was to conduct a pilot randomized study to evaluate the effectiveness of ibobbly, a self-help medical app, at “targeting suicidal ideation, depression, psychological distress and impulsivity among Indigenous youth in remote Australia.” The 1.5 year study included 61 participants who were randomized to receive the app that delivered acceptance-based therapy for six weeks or waitlisted for six weeks then received the app. Groups received 6 week follow up and testing.

Using a measure of the frequency and intensity of suicidal ideation, the researchers indicate in an article in the British Medical Journal Open that there were statistically significant changes in certain measures of depression (PHQ-9 and K10 scores) when comparing the treatment and control (wait list) groups. The waitlist group also improved after exposure to the app. However, measures of suicidal ideation did not demonstrate any statistically significant differences.

The results led the researchers to conclude that the app was helpful for reducing distress and depression, but not in the main outcome measure of the study – suicidal ideation. Yet given the link between the two, more research on the impact of the app on greater numbers of individuals may demonstrate a significant impact.