UK mental health provider, Stanford to develop suicide prevention app

By Aditi Pai
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UK-based mental health provider Mersey Care NHS Trust has partnered with Stanford University to develop an app that prevents suicides, according to BBC.

When a person opts to use it, the conceptualized app will monitor their communications, like social media accounts, emails, and phone calls, to help physicians track those that are at risk of committing suicide. If users show signs of visiting a location where people often commit suicide or if they miss an important appointment, the app would notify the clinicians who could then call the user. The app developers explained that people share more with their friends and family than they do with medical providers.

Stanford and Mersey Care expect to build a prototype of the app by June and launch for patients by January 2017.

"This is an opportunity to exploit technology in a way we've never been able to before in health, by providing very powerful, decision-making, statistical support to clinicians in real time for the people who are most at risk," Mersey Care Medical Director Dr. David Fearnley told BBC.

Last year, a few organizations including Minnesota Department of Human Services, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Facebook came out with suicide prevention tools. 

In February, Facebook announced a partnership with several mental health organizations including Forefront, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and Save.org to offer its users more tools to help those who may be considering committing suicide.

A month later, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the US Department of Health and Human Services, launched a new training tool, an app called Suicide Safe, for behavioral health and primary care providers

And in June, Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) allocated $1 million for Minnesota-based Canvas Health's suicide prevention texting program, called Txt4Life. The state said it would provide $500,000 per year for the next two years on top of $625,000 in base funding per year to expand the program statewide, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota.

Finally, one of the better known digital health companies working on this problem, Ginger.io, also passively tracks the way people use their phones as part of their depression and anxiety coaching offerings.