According to the most recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there were 3,027 deaths due to suicide in 2015, equating to more than eight deaths by suicide a day. According to Lifeline, it’s estimated that for every death by suicide, as many as 30 people attempt to end their lives, equating to more than 65,000 suicide attempts each year.
Social Health Innovations was founded by Amanda Hart to focus on creating tech to solve the global suicide epidemic. Among the company’s developments is Be A Looper, a daily mental health check in and peer support application.
The idea evolved out of a practice Hart had begun undertaking back in 2004, an SMS check in system to ensure her friends touched base at least once each day after she saw the high number of suicides and levels of suicidal ideation, or suicidal thoughts, among friendship groups.
“If they did not check in, it meant we would activate our suicide action plan – go to their home, call the police, etcetera; prevention was always the goal,” Hart explained.
The SMS system continued on its way. Later, while doing a due diligence project for a healthcare company for the rollout of new pharmacies and technology integration Hart saw the positive response to the adoption of healthtech in terms of patient data, and thought there could be a similar positive response with mental health.
From the creation of the SMS system in 2004 through to its evolution into an app, Be A Looper has been a long time in development. After coming up with the idea to turn it into an app, Hart explained the first year was focused on design and refining the user experience.
“We worked with those with lived experience, clinicians and the RUOK board and conversation advisory to refine the basic functions of the app. We then worked with gamification specialists to incorporate the familiar features of tap, tap, swipe right and swipe up, that are all common in applications such as Candy Crush, Tinder and Snapchat,” Hart explained.
“It was interesting to combine the knowledge of those who build slot machine games, with clinicians alongside those who have suffered chronic depression.”
Aimed at those navigating depression and those who care for them, Be A Looper works by allowing each user to add up to five people to their support ‘Loop’. Users check in daily with a rating of how they’re feeling on a scale of one to five, with others in their loop also checking in.
Hart explained that if a user checks in with a 3 or below, the app will send those in their loop an emergency SOS notification saying, ‘Amanda just checked in a 2 – would you like to give her a call or send a message?”, with the user then taken to a screen to action a call or message. The app has already sent over 1,700 SOS alerts triggered by users.
Be A Looper also links to emergency helplines, with localised numbers, and resources such as the RUOK conversation guide and an AI chatbot, Woebot.
Developed within Hart’s organisation Social Health Innovations, Be A Looper was funded as a social enterprise by those “who seek a level of altruism in part of their endeavours”, Hart explained.
“All of our shareholders are firstly committed to ensuring we are striving to lower the suicide rate globally, using technology. Our return on investment is how many lives we save. As a team, we share the feedback when a user has contact us with a story of a risk that was mitigated or a life that was saved which is rewarding and a driver for us to continue,” she explained.
With the app launched in beta before Christmas, Hart said the nature of adding five users to a Loop saw it spread to 55 countries organically. As more users have come on board, the team has worked to iterate on feedback.
“The Be A Looper interface has been tested and refined over a 3.5 year period with professionals in the clinical and rehabilitation sector, the not-for-profit sector and most importantly, validated with the lived experience community. A new release of the application is released each month, refining design by real-time user feedback and analytics,” Hart said.
Next on the cards is an enterprise version, which Hart said a client base is already waiting for: among them are organisations that worked on the creation of the tech behind Be A Looper, such as rehab clinic The Sanctuary Byron Bay.
“The two work handsomely together, as the consumer version being free does not take advantage of vulnerable people by charging them for the service; the running of our social enterprise over time will be held up by the income of the enterprise version,” Hart said.
“With enterprise, most of our interest has come through the lead generation from our consumer application, from duty of care providers within schools and military, which is a different market to many of the other services that offer workplace wellness programs.”
The app will be priced at $1 per week, per patient.
As well as gearing up to release the enterprise version of the platform, the Be A Looper team recently travelled to the Mobile World Congress, where the app was named a finalist in the Best Use of Mobile for Accessibility & Inclusion category in the Global Mobile Awards.
“As a purely altruistic social enterprise, we are thrilled this highest recognition allows us to extend our reach, ensuring our free mobile app gets into the hands of those most at risk of suicide to mitigate risk while also supporting the caregivers,” Hart said.
In getting Be A Looper into the hands of those who need it, Hart said the team wants to also help promote the idea of authenticity on a ‘social’ network.
“In a world of contextual polymorphism – being, the pressure of multiple personas that exists due to social media, workplace, and life pressures – we want to ensure Be A Looper provides a safe platform to “take off the mask” and share ‘who I am, really’.”
Image: Amanda Hart. Source: Supplied.