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New App Aims to Enhance Suicide Prevention Strategies

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In a bid to address the alarming rates of suicide, a new study has explored the use of digital technology to support individuals with suicidal tendencies. The qualitative study, conducted in the Castilla y León (CyL) region of Spain, evaluated the effectiveness of a mobile application, WapsMobile, designed to assist in suicide prevention. The findings were published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.

Suicide remains a significant public health issue, with various strategies employed globally to mitigate its impact. Traditional approaches to suicide prevention often involve face-to-face interactions, which, while effective, can be limited by accessibility and resource constraints. The rise in mobile technology usage offers a promising avenue for innovative solutions in this critical area.

In 2021, approximately 93% of people in Spain had access to the Internet via smartphones, with 72% using laptops and 52% using desktop computers​​. This widespread use of mobile devices suggests a substantial potential impact for mobile applications designed to support mental health and suicide prevention efforts.

The study evaluated WapsMobile, a mobile application specifically designed to support individuals with suicidal behaviour. The research was conducted by a team led by Gema Castillo-Sánchez and involved a focus group of four female patients with a history of suicidal behaviour.

The participants, aged between 24 and 45, all had varying levels of education and were either quite or very interested in technology​​. The focus group aimed to assess the app’s usability, user experience, and perceived usefulness in aiding suicide prevention efforts.

The study’s results were promising, with participants expressing overall satisfaction with the app. They found it easy to use and highlighted its potential to assist during non-crisis moments. The participants also provided valuable feedback for improving the app’s design and functionality.

One of the key features appreciated by the users was the mood tracker, which allowed them to document their feelings. However, some participants felt that the emojis used to express emotions were too simplistic and suggested the need for more nuanced options. For instance, one participant noted: “Maybe emojis are too simple for something so complicated”​​.

The app’s user interface and visual design were also discussed, with some participants describing it as “cold” and suggesting that more attractive and engaging visuals could enhance user experience. “It is pretty, but it is very cold, the colours are very cold,” remarked one participant​​.

The study highlighted the importance of involving patients in the development and design of e-health solutions. By incorporating user feedback, developers can create more effective and user-friendly applications that better meet the needs of those they aim to support.

WapsMobile includes several features designed to support individuals with suicidal behaviour, such as tips and information about suicide to help break the stigma, and a section dedicated to mindfulness activities. The app also offers a “What can I do?” section for crisis moments and an option for users to connect with others for support​​.

But the researchers noted that the community support feature must be handled with caution due to the potential for negative interactions during crisis moments. The study emphasized that such digital tools should complement, not replace, direct contact with mental health professionals​​.

The research underscores the potential of digital health solutions in suicide prevention, especially when these tools are designed with input from the users themselves. The findings suggest that WapsMobile is a promising tool for aiding individuals with suicidal tendencies, though further refinements are necessary to enhance its effectiveness and user engagement.

Future research will focus on expanding the sample size and exploring additional features to make the app more comprehensive and adaptable to new demands. Ensuring the app is accessible to individuals with physical or cognitive limitations is also a priority​​.

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