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New phone app could reduce suicide risk

Blog post | 30 Oct 2017

Smartphones sometimes get a bad rap when it comes to mental health, but a new free app could help in the counselling of people with mental health issues and even reduce suicide risk. 

Counselling support provider On The Line, which runs MensLine Australia, Suicide Call Back Service and SuicideLine Victoria, is trialling an app that allows counsellors to monitor their clients’ mood, activity and whether they’re taking their medication.      

Certain clients with complex mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder will be invited to download the free app from Apple or Google Play. As with a fitness tracker, clients will be able to enter data from their daily life – which their personal On The Line counsellor can access via a dashboard on a secure web portal.  

The result? Counsellors will have a clearer picture of how the client feels every day, and be armed with more information ahead of phone counselling sessions. On The Line says the new 'mHealth Platform' app could empower people to self-manage their mental health, help them take their medication properly, identify early warning signs, and ultimately lower suicide rates. 

“With more data and information, our counsellors are in a better position to understand the client,” says On the Line CEO, Kim O’Neill. 

“We hope that the On the Line mHealth Platform will help clients self-manage their issues, which may reduce reliance on external support.”

A recent study by Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM), Harvard Medical School, The University of Manchester and the Black Dog Institute looked into the efficacy of smartphone-based treatments for depression. The review, of 18 randomised controlled trials across 22 different smartphone apps, was the first of its kind. It found that, overall, apps significantly reduced depressive symptoms in people with mild to moderate depression. 

Image of mHealth Platform app interface
As with a fitness tracker, clients will be able to enter data from their daily life.

"The data shows us that smartphones can help people monitor, understand and manage their own mental health,” says co-author, NICM deputy director, Professor Jerome Sarris. “Using apps as part of an 'integrative medicine' approach for depression has been demonstrated to be particularly useful for improving mood and tackling symptoms in these patients.” 

On The Line’s mHealth Platform app trial will be offered to Suicide Call Back Service clients. If successful, it may be rolled out to more people in the future. 

There are many free mental wellbeing apps available for anyone to use. If you need support, try:

  • Black Dog Snapshot Developed by mental health researcher the Black Dog Institute, this confidential, password-protected app helps users monitor mood, anxiety levels, work stress, sleep, social support and alcohol intake, and offers options for support services (both online and offline) nationwide. 
  • The Check-in Not sure how to approach a friend who's not doing so well? This app, created by support provider Youthbeyondblue, helps you plan what you'll say to a mate who's dealing with mental-health issues or is at risk of self-harm - so there's no fear of saying the wrong thing. 
  • MindMum Being an expectant or new mother brings emotional challenges, so Queensland University of Technology - in collaboration with the Perinatal Depression e-Consortium, Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA) and other organisations - launched this supportive app to help build confidence in mums and strengthen their relationships.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help you can call:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
  • MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

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