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Exploring Suicidal Ideation Using an Innovative Mobile App-Strength Within Me: The Usability and Acceptability of Setting up a Trial Involving Mobile Technology and Mental Health Service Users

Bruen, Ashley Jane and Wall, Abbie and Haines-Delmont, Alina and Perkins, Elizabeth (2020) Exploring Suicidal Ideation Using an Innovative Mobile App-Strength Within Me: The Usability and Acceptability of Setting up a Trial Involving Mobile Technology and Mental Health Service Users. JMIR Mental Health, 7 (9). ISSN 2368-7959

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Abstract

Background: Suicide is a growing global public health problem that has resulted in an increase in the demand for psychological services to address mental health issues. It is expected that 1 in 6 people on a waiting list for mental health services will attempt suicide. Although suicidal ideation has been shown to be linked to a higher risk of death by suicide, not everybody openly discloses their suicidal thoughts or plans to friends and family or seeks professional help before suicide. Therefore, new methods are needed to track suicide risk in real time together with a better understanding of the ways in which people communicate or express their suicidality. Considering the dynamic nature and challenges in understanding suicide ideation and suicide risk, mobile apps could be better suited to prevent suicide as they have the ability to collect real-time data. Objective: This study aims to report the practicalities and acceptability of setting up and trialing digital technologies within an inpatient mental health setting in the United Kingdom and highlight their implications for future studies. Methods: Service users were recruited from 6 inpatient wards in the north west of England. Service users who were eligible to participate and provided consent were given an iPhone and Fitbit for 7 days and were asked to interact with a novel phone app, Strength Within Me (SWiM). Interaction with the app involved journaling (recording daily activities, how this made them feel, and rating their mood) and the option to create safety plans for emotions causing difficulties (identifying strategies that helped with these emotions). Participants also had the option to allow the study to access their personal Facebook account to monitor their social media use and activity. In addition, clinical data (ie, assessments conducted by trained researchers targeting suicidality, depression, and sleep) were also collected. Results: Overall, 43.0% (80/186 response rate) of eligible participants were recruited for the study. Of the total sample, 67 participants engaged in journaling, with the average number of entries per user being 8.2 (SD 8.7). Overall, only 24 participants created safety plans and the most common difficult emotion to be selected was feeling sad (n=21). This study reports on the engagement with the SWiM app, the technical difficulties the research team faced, the importance of building key relationships, and the implications of using Facebook as a source to detect suicidality. Conclusions: To develop interventions that can be delivered in a timely manner, prediction of suicidality must be given priority. This paper has raised important issues and highlighted lessons learned from implementing a novel mobile app to detect the risk of suicidality for service users in an inpatient setting.

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