This month, to correspond with Mental Health Awareness Month, Juniata Valley Healing Connections has released an iOS and Android app to help individuals assess the risk of someone who may be suicidal.
Juniata Valley Healing Connections is a suicide prevention task force in Huntingdon, Mifflin and Juniata counties, and the app will direct those at risk of suicide in any of those counties to the Juniata Valley Crisis Line (800-929-9583).
The app works using the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), which is a series of basic, yes-or-no questions scientifically proven to judge a person’s risk of suicide.
“Essentially what happens is when you go through the questions, there are seven of them in the app, and if it indicates that you are at a level of risk that you should seek crisis services, then it will bring up the crisis helpline for your zip code,” said Bob Henry, mental health coordinator at Juniata Valley Behavioral and Developmental Services.
The app also allows anonymity.
“It is completely anonymous to use,” said Henry. “The only thing we can actually get from the app is the usage patterns: time of day, what zip code the app was used, to help us identify any trends. We will only see the usage. We won’t see the results.”
Users who are deemed at-risk will be connected to the crisis helpline associated with their zip code.
“In order for the local number to pop up, (the user) needs to have location services on in their phone,” Henry said. He added, “Our crisis line is there to link people to resources. If there is an immediate need, it can also send out mobile workers to facilitate linkage to services and even hospitalization if necessary, but that’s not what we want to emphasize with the app because that is where it can turn into a fear of usage or asking for help.”
Henry said those who have suicidal thoughts are one of their primary audiences.
“If someone is suicidal, they are in a very hopeless situation, so if they have the means to do some kind of outreach or have something come to them it can actually cause an intervention,” Henry said. “It can put a pause in that person’s thinking.”
The app could also be useful to parents or friends of those with suicidal tendencies.
“We always stress that there is no harm in being direct and asking if someone is suicidal,” Henry said. “Asking won’t be a prompt to make them do it. If someone is suicidal and has a plan, then they are already thinking about it and asking can actually be an intervention to stop that thought process.”
Henry said they are currently working to raise awareness of the app on Juniata College campus and in local schools.
“My thinking is, folks who are chronically suicidal or who have depression that leads to (suicide), these are the folks who will download and keep the app in their pocket and not tell folks about it,” he said. “I think we’ll see a lot more use in that regard, and likewise if someone has a family member or friend who suffers from (suicidal tendencies), they can use it in that case and administer the survey to someone else.”
He added, “There is a concern of the younger population. We didn’t specifically bring the app because of that but it is a good opportunity to address the population given the technology awareness there. And anyone into their 40s and 50s is smartphone savvy now, so we are going to reach a large audience.”
The app can be found in the iOS and Android store by searching for Columbia Protocol.
Jesse can be reached at email@example.com.