Suicide is a prominent cause of death worldwide, particularly among young people. It was the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-29 years globally in 2016. Treatment for patients with suicidal thoughts or behaviors often includes face-to-face psychological therapy with a mental health professional. These forms of interventions may involve maintaining and updating paper-based reports or worksheets in between sessions. Mobile technology can offer a way to support the implementation of evidence-based psychological techniques and the acquisition of protective coping skills.
This study aims to develop a mobile app to facilitate service users' access to mental health support and safety planning. This process involved eliciting expert input from clinicians who are actively engaged in the provision of mental health care.
A survey was distributed to targeted health care professionals to determine what features should be prioritized in a new mobile app relating to suicide prevention. On the basis of the survey results, a clinical design group, comprising 6 members with experience in fields such as mobile health (mHealth), clinical psychology, and suicide prevention, was established. This group was supplemented with further input from additional clinicians who provided feedback over three focus group sessions. The sessions were centered on refining existing app components and evaluating new feature requests. This process was iterated through regular feedback until agreement was reached on the overall app design and functionality.
A fully functional mobile app, known as the SafePlan app, was developed and tested with the input of clinicians through an iterative design process. The app's core function is to provide an interactive safety plan to support users with suicidal thoughts or behaviors as an adjunct to face-to-face therapy. A diary component that facilitates the generalization of skills learned through dialectical behavior therapy was also implemented. Usability testing was carried out on the final prototype by students from a local secondary school, who are representative of the target user population in both age and technology experience. The students were asked to complete a system usability survey (SUS) at the end of this session. The mean overall SUS rating was 71.85 (SD 1.38).
The participatory process involving key stakeholders (clinicians, psychologists, and information technology specialists) has resulted in the creation of an mHealth intervention technology that has the potential to increase accessibility to this type of mental health service for the target population. The app has gone through the initial testing phase, and the relevant recommendations have been implemented, and it is now ready for trialing with both clinicians and their patients.