With young people’s mental health hitting the headlines, a Bristol-developed free app giving people easy, quick and discreet access to reliable information and advice about self-harm and suicidal thoughts is now included on the NHS Apps Library.
distrACT provides relevant information and advice – all in one single location – anywhere, anytime, safely and in private. It was developed by NHS health professionals, experts in self-harm and suicide prevention and people with lived experience of self-harm and those supporting them.
Originally launched in 2017, the free app has now passed the rigorous assessment by NHS Digital to be added to the new NHS Apps Library. The library helps people make better choices about the digital health and care tools they use.
Self-harm is a serious national public health issue. About one in seven young people in the UK say that they have harmed themselves at some point. A 2018 report by the Children's Society states that nearly one in four (22%) 14-year old girls self-harm. People who self-harm are around 30 times more likely to take their own lives.
Self-harm leads to around 200,000 hospital emergency department attendances every year in the UK.
People who self-harm and may feel suicidal need to be able to access clear and reliable information quickly and easily, so that they can find help and support when they need it most.
While information about self-harm is freely available online, much of it is difficult to find and may be dangerous or unhelpful. Googling terms such as 'self-harm' or 'suicidal thoughts' can lead people looking for support to websites that may display harmful or even dangerous content which can increase distress or promote self-harm.
The distrACT app delivers safe and effective self-help information and complements materials such as posters and leaflets, which have limited reach, can go out of date quickly and can be expensive to produce.
Bristol based GP Dr Knut Schroeder, who led the development of the app, says:
"The distrACT app makes it really easy for people who self-harm and feel suicidal to find reassurance, useful tips for staying safe and advice on where to get help and support – all in one place within the privacy of their mobile phones and without the need for being online. From safer alternatives to emergency contact numbers and tips on how to get support, the distrACT app allows users to find reliable answers to their questions in clear language."
Salena Williams, Team Leader in Liaison Psychiatry at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and co-creator of the app, says:
"There are crisis services for people who self-harm, but what we want to do with the app is to tackle the issues before people get to the stage where they feel life is not worth living."
You can listen to her on YouTube, where in a 90 second video she talks about self-harm, mental health support and the story behind the distrACT app:
The app is also a useful resource for parents, family members, teachers and health professionals wanting to better understand self-harm and suicidal thoughts, and who want to support those affected.
Dr Schroeder says:
"The distrACT app being listed on the NHS Apps Library means that more people who self-harm will now be able to find the app and use it as a source of support in difficult times – especially when they're at their most vulnerable."
The app can also be customised for local health areas and universities to provide direct links to local support, all in one place. While local information is currently only available for the Bristol area, the app developers hope to roll out local information for other parts of the UK over the coming months.
The distrACT app has been created in partnership with self-harm and suicide prevention experts from Bristol Health Partners, the Improving Care in Self-Harm Health Integration Team (STITCH HIT), 4Mentalhealth, researchers from the University of Bristol, health professionals from University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust and other local and national organisations. Self-Injury Support and Self-Injury Self Help also supported the development of the app and helped involve young people with experience of self-harm in the design.