Suicide is a major public health concern. The pandemic has resulted in a shift to a virtual model of delivery of mental health care, disrupting established processes for identifying people at increased risk of suicidal behaviour. The majority of the world was forced into a lockdown. Staying confined at home for longer periods had gotten extremely uncomfortable and stressful for everybody and there have been no channels to vent out or relax. When one has to step out of the house, there are no familiar faces, no smiles, no handshakes and no hugs. The pandemic has affected the mental health of many people. In addition to violence, alcohol use disorders, substance abuse, and feelings of loss are important factors that can increase a person’s risk of deciding to take their own life.
Since the pandemic has made us all technology-savy, there are a few ways in which technology can be utilized to prevent suicide, they are as follows:-
Chatbots are nothing but a CHAT with a roBOT. A chatbot is a software that can simulate a conversation (or a chat) with a person (using the chatbot) in natural language through messaging applications, websites, mobile apps or through the telephone. They have a built-in system, which detects suicidal behaviour when the person is chatting and gives out strategies to help the person. Chatbots seeks to help the people in need and also the family and friends of those at risk to quickly and easily start a conversation about suicide. Within mental health, AI has enhanced the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and applied “decision trees” to guide treatment selection. It’s a new approach to “therapy” involving conversational bots (or chatbots) which are computer programs designed to simulate human-like conversation using voice or text responses. Chatbots can deliver psychological interventions for depression and anxiety based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Since chatbots uniquely respond to presented dialogue, they can tailor interventions to a patient’s emotional state and clinical needs. These models are considered quite user-friendly, and the user-adapted responses of the chatbot itself have been well-reviewed.
Similar technology is being added to smartphones to allow voice assistants, like the iPhone’s Siri, to recognize and respond to user mental health concerns with appropriate information and supportive resources. AI technology has also been integrated into suicide management to improve patient care in other areas. AI assessment tools have been shown to predict short-term suicide risk and make treatment recommendations that are as good as clinicians. The tools are also well-regarded by patients.
Kiran (India) is a 24*7 helpline number for suicide prevention.
Rashi Thakran has started a campaign for the same when she lost her brother to suicide. After it happened, She had called over 15 helpline numbers, some of which were unanswered, some were switched off, only 3 of them were answered. She feels what if the brother would have tried to call the helpline as a last resort and what if he didn’t get an answer. This is when she decided to launch this campaign and after that, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment launched India’s first-round the clock mental health helpline – Kiran.
I-call – iCall – (Free email or telephone-based counselling services) Hours Available: Mon-Sat, 8 am – 10 pm,
Languages spoken: English, Hindi
Aasra – Helpline number
Hours Available: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages spoken: English, Hindi.
A crisis intervention centre for people experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, Sumaitri offers telephonic counselling conducted by trained volunteers, seven days a week, from 2 pm to 6:30 pm.
A suicide prevention organisation based in Chennai, Sneha offers emotional support to anyone feeling distressed or suicidal. Run by a group of volunteers, the service is available from 10 AM to 10 PM every day. The experts at the centre are also providing support through email.
There are various other helpline numbers that cater to the prevention of suicide. If you need to let out your feelings but are hesitant to talk to a friend or counsellor on a one-on-one basis, this platform allows you to share your experiences anonymously with compassionate strangers. The 24-hour moderation keeps bullies away and users get a trigger warning before they’re shown any sensitive content. One can always look up a little more and look for places that offer help. There should be no shame in asking for help. We all need help at some point in life.
3) Smartphone Applications
Smartphones have become a crucial part of our lives. So how will a smartphone help in preventing suicide? The application called ‘emotional support helpline directory is available on the play store (Android). It features contact information of more than 50 suicide prevention helplines numbers operating across India and displays the closest helpline near the user. A person who commits suicide often ends life with an impulse, but he or she may have thought about it a hundred times before. If you think that a friend looks worried and doesn’t want to open up, you can always send them the link to see if they find an outlet.
There are 6 applications that I know of, might be helpful in Suicide Prevention.
A Friend Asks
A friend (Android, iOS) is a free app by the suicide prevention group Jason Foundation. The applications aim in teaching how to recognize the signs that someone close to them may be thinking about suicide, and how to reach out to them proactively.
MY3 (Android, iOS) is targeted squarely at those who are depressed or suicidal. MY3 aims to keep you connected to your core network, asking you to choose three close contacts, such as friends, family, loved ones or your therapist, that you feel comfortable reaching out to whenever you feel down. In addition, MY3 helps you build your own Safety Plan, asking you to think through and list your own warning signs, coping strategies and support network, so that you can easily act when you recognize your warning signs.
ASK & Prevent Suicide
ASK & Prevent Suicide (Android, iOS) lists down warning signs that a person might be thinking of suicide, as well as practical advice on how to intervene using the ASK (Ask, Seek help/Stay safe, and Know-how and where to refer) methodology.
Suicide Crisis Support
Suicide Crisis Support is an Android app by the QPR Institute that serves as an electronic version of its booklet “The Tender Leaves of Hope, Helping Someone Survive a Suicide Crisis.” Intended for relatives and friends of those judged to be at risk of suicidal behaviour, the eBook is designed to help understand a suicidal person’s frame of mind, what might drive them to suicide and how to help.
SPEAK (Suicide Prevention, Education, & Awareness Kit) is an Android and iOS app that provides suicide prevention information and resources. The app provides information on suicide warning signs and a guide on what to say and avoid when attempting to approach a suicidal person, with focused sections for veterans, adults and teens.
Stay Alive (Android, iOS) is geared for people who may think of committing suicide, as well as friends and family who may want to help. The app comes loaded with resources, including a customizable “My Safety Plan” of actions, places and people that can help calm you down when you’re feeling suicidal, a Lifebox that you can fill with your personal inspirational photos and access to breathing exercises and grounding techniques. Concerned friends can read up on warning signs of suicidal behaviour, practical steps to help, myths about suicide and what not to say when trying to comfort or approach a suicidal person.
The only slight downside of these applications is that their hotlines and links are mostly abroad based, but the app’s content is quite helpful.
In the end, just have a patient ear, if someone calls you or tries to message you, just be there for them. Have a patient ear and listen to them, you don’t know you might just save them from taking a dangerous step.