Suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-24. To address this public health problem, novel and effective risk mitigation interventions are needed. Evidence-based research has found that collaborative safety planning is a promising approach to reducing suicide risk. Traditionally, safety plans have been administered in a paper-based format. Emerging research has attempted to translate suicide prevention safety plans to mobile Health (mHealth) smart technologies (i.e., mobile apps); yet, this work is still in preliminary stages and lacks systematic assessment, especially mHealth apps for youth. Our research aims to highlight the needs of technological solution for suicide safety planning and call attention to the shortcomings of baseline safety planning apps so that mHealth researchers can build a better solution for youth to manage their mental health.
To do this, we developed a mobile application for suicide safety planning called “SafeLINC.” We had young adult participants assess and compare this newly developed app with an open-source suicide safety planning app currently available for use (i.e., “Suicide Safety Plan") to identify whether either app would be useful for youth to manage their mental health through safety planning. SafeLINC is an Android and iOS app that incorporates the six dimensions of Stanley and Brown’s framework for suicide safety planning as well as sharing safety planning data with parents and clinicians, and visualizing safety planning data over time. We conducted a user study with ten college students (ages 18-21). We first aimed to understand how they currently managed their mental health and their perceptions. Then we asked them to complete a core set of tasks across both suicide safety planning applications to conduct a comparative analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the two apps. We also asked participants to suggest new features to incorporate into the apps that would better support their mental health and coping strategies.
We found that most participants use a variety of emotional outlets to cope with their mental health; sometimes using online tools to support these outlets. When using the apps, participants overall preferred SafeLINC to the baseline app because it allowed them to connect with their support network, provided better guidance in the creation of their safety plans, and enabled them to keep track of changes to their mental health. However, participants identified barriers that could inhibit their use of safety planning applications. For example, the downsides of including parents or guardians in the support network, unclear terminologies, and reminding negative feelings were prominent perceptions while using the SafeLINC app. Participants offered suggestions relating to the weaknesses they observed in both apps. Our study highlights how suicide safety planning apps may be beneficial to manage mental health, but contextual factors may still affect usage. We provide recommendations for overcoming these challenges based on the insights gained from our study.
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
College of Engineering and Computer Science
Length of Campus-only Access
Miller, Zachary P., "A User Study Comparing SafeLINC to an Existing mHealth Application for Suicide Safety Planning" (2022). Honors Undergraduate Theses. 1313.