Mobile applications could provide "an uninterrupted tool for crisis response" for people experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours, according to research.
A team of international researchers, including from Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain, in a review of studies said that apps based on an approach called ecological momentary intervention (EMI) may offer a useful tool for managing patients at risk of suicide.
"These interventions can be useful complements to traditional care, especially in situations in which face-to-face care is not possible," they wrote in the review published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry.
Suicide remains a leading cause of potential life lost around the world, amid concerns that suicide rates may be increasing during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Mobile health interventions provide an excellent opportunity to provide "low-cost, 24/7 support" for individuals at high risk of suicide, especially those with previous suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.
Ecological momentary interventions are a particularly promising approach, with the potential to deliver help in the moment for patients experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
"For instance, EMIs may allow patients to adopt coping strategies when they experience a breakdown, or to interact with the environment in different ways, such as by contacting professionals or family members during a crisis," said Enrique Baca-Garcia, from Hospital Universitario Fundacion Jimenez Diaz in Madrid.
The team identified 27 studies of 19 different EMI interventions designed for suicide prevention.
Safety planning was the most common component of EMI interventions.
Some apps including safety plans took advantage of digital media - for example, showing pictures of loved ones, videos with relaxation techniques, or maps showing the quickest route to emergency help.
The researchers said adolescents and young adults may benefit most from new technologies in mental health: they are comfortable in using digital technologies and are the age group most affected by suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
However, the review suggests that there is "still a long way to go before (EMI interventions) can be routinely implemented in clinical practice," Baca-Garca wrote.