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Suicide App Seeks Market To Save Lives

Can a smartphone app prevent suicide? Christopher Munch thinks it’s possible. He and his team at ISD Innovations Inc., a nonprofit based in Newbury Park, are building a publicly distributed suicide screening tool called the Suicide Prevention App, or SPA. According to Munch, it has the potential to revolutionize mental health crises intervention – and save lives. “There are only two tracks for someone who’s suicidal: A safety plan – which is essentially a promise that the person won’t kill themselves – or involuntary psychiatric hospitalization,” he explained. “There’s no interim, there’s no medium.” Programmers have developed mobile apps to deal with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Their effectiveness is difficult to ascertain, but in the case of suicide, statistics suggest that even an experimental solution is better than none: Nearly 43,000 Americans kill themselves every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The human toll is accompanied by an economic cost of about $44 billion in work and medical losses, the CDC reports. The app aims to reduce these figures by providing friends or family a series of questions to ask an individual in the midst of a suicidal crisis. An algorithm uses the answers to quantify the risk of suicide, while also identifying protective or exacerbating factors specific to the case. The program then supplies a guided response plan that includes geo-located mental health resources and a link to a crisis hotline. SPA is currently accessible on mobile web browsers through a link at suicidepreventionapp.com. Munch plans to use funds from individual donations through Google Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and PayPal Holdings Inc. to create a “native,” standalone version that can be downloaded free of charge from iOS and Android app stores. “As of right now, I’m funding everything out of my pocket,” said Munch, who is also employed full-time as a mental health professional. He hopes the project will attract the attention of like-minded investors, as well as schools and governments. – Helen Floersh

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