Ulster County, N.Y., uses tech solutions to reach at-risk individuals
The health department of Ulster County, N.Y., created a smartphone app to help individuals aid someone considering suicide. County officials say the app is the first of its kind in New York, and one of only a handful in the nation.
The county’s health department created the app, called SPEAK (Suicide Prevention Education Awareness Kit), to provide vital information for suicide prevention. Information provided includes a "warning signs" checklist, a list of guidelines for interaction with a suicidal individual and contact information for regional and national suicide hotlines. While the app can be used by anyone, The National Association of Counties (NACo) reports it is geared towards youth.
“For good or bad, kids have a phone with them all the time,” County Executive Mike Hien told NACo. “This is how they get their information and since it’s an app, we can get statistics about whether people are using it.”
Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in America, and 3rd for the young, according to the American Association of Suicidology. The Daily Freeman reports around 1,300 New Yorkers take their lives every year, and 70 of those individuals are teenagers. Hein said community resources to help people in crisis haven’t been updated in decades, and these materials were in need of an overhaul.
“Our community college president put it best,” Hein told NACo, “when he said that they had information available for people considering suicide or people who were worried someone was thinking about it, but the information was hard to find. You had to go searching on a website. He told me, ‘I realized we were just checking off a box,’ not addressing the problem.”
“[The app] is designed to help users easily access and recognize the signs of suicide in friends and family and get them the help they need, fast,” reads the description on the app’s iTunes preview. “It’s not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment, but rather a 'first line of defense' that offers people some solid information and useful tools that they can use to help someone they love make it through a difficult time.”
The app cost around $7,000 to develop, according to NACo materials, and was covered by a grant from the state’s mental health office. The app was released for Apple devices in November, and will be released for Android later this month. For more information or to download the free app visit the iTunes store. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.