Some depression management and suicide prevention apps include incorrect or ineffective suicide crisis helpline contact information, according to a new analysis. While apps can provide an important lifeline for people with suicidal thoughts or behaviors, experts worry that many apps on the Apple App Store or Google Play may not follow best practices or link this group to appropriate resources.
Depression management and suicide prevention applications can fill an important role: Many people find it more comfortable to find information or seek help online, and there are reports that people are more likely to ask and share questions online than face-to-face conversations. This makes it particularly important that people turn to the highest standards of prevention for digital tools.
“Not only are they useless, but in fact they can do harm,” said Igor Galynker, director of the Israeli Suicide Research and Prevention Laboratory at Mount Sinai in New York. Other experts have also expressed concern about people’s reliance on unregulated applications to deal with suicide prevention. “Incorrect and even harmful information can have very serious consequences, ” says the lead psychologist at Grady Health System.
In a new analysis published in BMC Medicine, the authors evaluated 69 applications for people with depression, assessing suicide risk, or providing recommendations for suicide prevention. This does not include any apps for healthcare providers that do not include apps that connect users directly to a doctor or counselor.
In the assessment, the researchers looked at how many of the six wide-ranging, evidence-based suicide prevention strategies were used. The results showed that only 7% of applications had all six strategies, while most used only one, two, or three.
Responding to the findings, Josip Car, director of the Global Centre for Electronic Health at Imperial College London, and Laura Martinengo, a doctoral student at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the findings were not surprising. Because many health applications for other health conditions do not follow evidence-based guidelines. However, they remain disappointed that “suicide is a matter of life and death, and we hope that those who want to help us will follow best practice standards.” “