Can the Compassion of “The Crowd” Reduce Suicide?

HodlerDespondency1887WinterthurA web

Hodler, Despondency, 1887, Winterthur

Something we think a lot about here at Body1 is how to “Connect People with the Health Information that Matters Most to Them”.   In fact, we’ve made that our Mission.   We seek to apply it in our work, and in the ideas which we share.

Here’s one idea.  There’s a huge social opportunity to leverage digital for suicide prevention. Especially so, since suicide is a huge mental health issue that is largely unresolved.   It is a top 10 cause of death in America, 3rd behind only cancer and heart disease in years of life lost.   In the most recent full reporting year (2012), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 40,600 suicides, equivalent to someone dying every 13 minutes.

Given the immediacy of the need and the ubiquitous of smartphones, digital could offer a solution.  A 24 hour/day, 7 day/week, 365 day/year (24×7, 365) app that video links to a trained peer counselor is one possible approach.

There are some big questions to be answered first, including (but not limited to):

1. How to staff with appropriately trained personnel?
(one approach- could be drawn from a pool of *trained* volunteers with a round robin telephone routing),

2. How to market & distribute
(possibly via health plans, Apple, Google, telco’s, etc);

3. Who funds?
(options include CDC, state Health depts, crowdfunded?)

This seems to us like a wonderful way for digital to contribute to the social good.  Thoughts? Comments?

  • MB

    Great idea Chris – I think tying the app into an existing hotline service would be a natural fit. I also would recommend another question – is the app for the person at risk or for someone who is concerned about them to provide to the person at risk? The distribution strategy might differ depending on the answer to that question.


      MB, my initial inclination in answering your question is both. The person at risk and someone concerned about them should both be targets. Certainly the messaging would need to vary; Not sure if the core distribution needs to be different (although certainly there would be “sharing distribution” from the concerned group to the at risk group). In an ideal world the app (after proving itself) would be part of the base App set included on iPhone & Android.

      Question for you on the existing hotlines- are there any that seem like a natural fit? Thanks for your insights!

  • MB

    Also – just came across this recently released study which supports your idea.


      MB, Great study. It supports with data on the suicide-reducing impact of talk therapy what seems obvious intuitively. That is the idea that another person (often a stranger) caring enough to engage with someone in a dark, despondent place sends a critical message. That message- everyone matters and has value. Thanks for sharing! Chris

  • MB

    Chris – I did some cursory research and found some interesting possibilities in terms of connecting.

    SAMHSA has a national suicide prevention 24×7 hotline that would be a great tie in/component of an app is a SAMHSA supported effort which gives advice on what bystanders can do if they see someone post comments on social media that are of concern. Seems like that might be an interesting component of an app also.

    It appears SAMHSA created an app challenge and awarded Emory University for the challenge

    Also – An interesting Ted Talk by Nancy Lubin CEO of talking about the accidental result of starting to communicate with teens via text and how support could be provided to teens in distress (of all kinds).

    Lastly – thought you’d be interested in winners of behavioral health apps


      MB, thanks, very helpful. SAMHSA seems like a natural fit! Hopefully the scale-up/ training necessary for video prevention consults vs. voice will not be too daunting for them…

  • MB

    Chris – I think giving the user choice in terms of conversation method makes sense – texting, audio, video, facetime. Anonymity is a big deal to people who have feelings of shame, so maybe video might not be the preferred method. Would be a great thing to study. I hope we can someday!