2017-01-26 / Health & Wellness

Local man developing app to prevent suicide

Knowing what to ask helps, he says
By Alicia Doyle
Special to the Acorn

OFFERING AID—After losing five friends to suicide, Newbury Park resident Christopher Munch decided he needed to be part of the solution. He’s developing an app that he hopes will prevent suicide.  OFFERING AID—After losing five friends to suicide, Newbury Park resident Christopher Munch decided he needed to be part of the solution. He’s developing an app that he hopes will prevent suicide. Newbury Park resident Christopher Munch was a fourth-grader when his best friend, William, died by suicide in 1995.

“We were both 10 years old,” said Munch, now 32.

“At that time, we were still very deep in the social stigma of suicide. At school, we never talked about it. Nobody came in to check on the students.”

Between 2000 and 2010, Munch lost four more friends to suicide, including Marshall, a 15-year-old who took his own life in 2005, and Justin, a 28-year-old Army combat veteran who died in 2010.

“I’ve been exposed to suicide for 22-plus years now,” said Munch, who earned a master’s degree in social work from USC. “I have a rare experience with suicide that most people don’t.”

As a result, Munch is developing a free suicide prevention app for smartphones that will offer instructions to individuals who are concerned about a friend or loved one, or who are contemplating suicide themselves.

While the app is not yet available, the resources it will contain can be found online at www.suicidepreventionapp.com.

The site, created by Munch’s ISD Innovations, launched Sept. 10, 2016, World Suicide Prevention Day.

“Let’s say your brother, sister or aunt is suicidal. You don’t know what questions to ask, and this website walks you through it,” Munch said. “In the future, the downloadable app will be available so anybody, anywhere can have access to it.”

Asking questions

Those who register for the website have access to an assessment that asks a series of questions. Depending on the responses, users are provided with a set of steps to take, such as removing access to dangerous medications or identifying two people the person can trust when they feel like hurting themselves.

“My belief is that suicide is the end symptom of larger mental, social and emotional issues,” he said. “Rather than trying to change the way we do mental health, I’m going to capture the data to where, by the time I exit this world, we’ll have created some type of strategy of approaching suicide proactively.”

There are several apps available that are similar to Munch’s, said Jamie Bedics, a licensed clinical psychologist who teaches in the Graduate School of Psychology at Cal Lutheran University.

Munch’s mobile web response has bits of these other apps, Bedics said, such as a listing of the risk and protective factors, as well as a safety plan and resource list.

“The majority of the existing apps are from nonprofit entities and have clear and focused objectives with a specific, narrow focus—all of which I value,” Bedics said.

Mary Ellen Collins, a certified trainer in mental health first aid, learned about Munch’s online suicide prevention efforts while he was in the early development stage.

“I explored his website. . . . The research was solid, well-reviewed by professionals and easy to understand by nonprofessionals,” Collins said. “It gives everyone using a smartphone an excellent way of reaching out, guided at each step, to help someone experiencing a crisis.”

After the questions are answered through the online tool, the risk of self-harm or suicide is calculated, Collins said. The user is then guided to a number of nearby resources, including emergency services, by using the GPS on the phone.

“I don’t know of any other application that offers all of this,” Collins said. “This application could . . . provide immediate help to someone in distress.”

Since the online effort was launched, “we have had about 1,400 people that have used it,” Munch said.

He is involved with fund development to build the app.

“So we’re looking for a partnership or collaboration,” he said.

“The real super successful (apps) are like $100,000 from design to development to implementation to testing to launching,” he said. “We’ve done this very cheap, and my next step is to find an app development company that’s willing to do some in-kind service. I have the codes and the blueprints; we just need either the money to have it built or some techie to say, ‘Hey, let’s put our name on this.’”

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