The Black Dog Institute has published results from their first randomised controlled trial of the LifeBuoy smartphone application, designed to help young people manage suicidal thoughts and distress. The outcome was positive and showed that app was effective in reducing suicidal ideation in young people.
Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst people aged 15-24,1 with approximately 12-26% of young people experiencing suicidal ideation.2 Many barriers stand in the way of young people seeking health, such as cost, availability, accessibility and stigma.
LifeBuoy is informed by Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and is one of the first well-established therapies for reducing repeat suicide attempts and self-harm in young people and adults.3 The app is designed not to have a clinical feel and takes users through various interactive learning activities to teach emotion regulation and self-soothing.
Results from the first randomised controlled trial testing the app’s effectiveness were published in May 2022. Ultimately, this study found that young people who used the LifeBuoy app showed a greater reduction in suicidal ideation immediately and after three months, compared to the developed placebo app (designed for testing to look identical to the LifeBuoy app but not informed by DBT and ACT).4
Following these positive results, the Black Dog Institute researchers have conducted further interviews with study participants to improve the app. The app has now been updated and the research protocol for the next randomised controlled trial was recently published in online journal, BMJ Open. This trial is currently underway and will test the efficacy of the updated application in reducing suicidal ideation, as well as a digital engagement strategy.
Many positives of smartphone app-based interventions were also summarised, such as increased treatment access, anonymity and timely support. The LifeBuoy app is currently only available to study participants, but if the results continue to be positive the intention is that the app will be scaled up and made freely available in the future.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Deaths by suicide among young people. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Retrieved 18 August 2022, from https://www.aihw.gov.au/suicide-self-harm-monitoring/data/populations-age-groups/suicide-among-young-people
McGillivray, L., Gan, D., Wong, Q., Han, J., Hetrick, S., Christensen, H., & Torok, M. (2022). Three-arm randomised controlled trial of an m-health app and digital engagement strategy for improving treatment adherence and reducing suicidal ideation in young people: study protocol. BMJ Open, 12(5), 1-11. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-058584
DeCou CR, Comtois KA, Landes SJ. Dialectical Behavior Therapy Is Effective for the Treatment of Suicidal Behavior: A Meta-Analysis. Behav Ther. 2019;50(1):60–72. pmid:30661567
Torok M, Han J, McGillivray L, Wong Q, Werner-Seidler A, et al. (2022) The effect of a therapeutic smartphone application on suicidal ideation in young adults: Findings from a randomized controlled trial in Australia. PLOS Medicine 19(5): e1003978. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003978