September 19, 2019 | 47° F

U. CAPS, HOPE release suicide prevention app

Photo by Declan Intindola |

Nick Pellitta, chairman of the Rutgers University Student Assembly Allocations Board, takes last night’s meeting to announce the assembly’s allocations for student organizations in the coming year. 

Rutgers has used the growing smartphone market to produce a suicide prevention app that can immediately connect students to help.

Students can now download an app called Just in Case. The app targets patterns of behavior associated with people at risk and provides access to all of the mental health and safety resources on campus, as well as local and national hotlines.  

Mary Kelly, lead psychologist with Counseling, Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program and Psychiatric Services, and Francesca Maresca, director of Health Outreach, Promotion and Education, launched the app. Both CAPS and H.O.P.E. are a part of Rutgers Health Services.

Together, Kelly and Maresca are co-chairs of the Rutgers University Community Approaches to Suicide Prevention Working Group. Maresca said she spent the summer working with eReadia, the developers of the app, giving them University-specific information so they could implement it this semester.    

“Any university can purchase the Just in Case app and it gets tailored to their university,” Maresca said. “It was created so that it would be an easy resource that students, faculty, and staff could have on their phone or tablet, and at the touch of a button they can access resources.”

According to its website, eReadia introduced the app to various universities, including Montclair State University and Miami University.

Tabs featured in the app, including “I can’t cope” and “I’m worried about a friend,” directly link the user to a plan of action while identifying particular behaviors to look out for, according to a news release from eReadia.

“It’s basically saying if you’re feeling any of this or if you see yourself in this list, the best thing for you to do is to get in touch with somebody and talk to them, especially a mental health care provider,” Maresca said.

In a recent interview with Rutgers Today, Kelly, said she related to the problems associated with being the intermediary in someone’s path to help.

When it comes to knowing what to say or where to send someone for help, students are unsure. Overwhelmingly, that fear is what prevents people from reaching out to those who are visibly depressed, Kelly said.

Maresca said college students are at a unique place in life, making them more vulnerable.

According to a USA today article, 44 percent of college students report depression symptoms, while 75 percent of college students do not seek help for mental health issues.

“We know that some people are hesitant to ask for help, for a variety of reasons, so the easier we make it, the better off everyone is,” Maresca said.

Researchers at Northwestern University took the idea of combining self-help and technology a step further to produce an app that detects behavioral patterns and recommends help, according to the Northwestern Department of Preventive Medicine website.

This application, called Mobilyze, works as a pocket therapist, according to the website.

David Mohr, professor in Preventive Medicine at Northwestern, told CBS the researchers are trying to develop individual algorithms for each user that can determine specific states in their mental health based on their activity and their mood.

Maresca said the program will willingly implement intervention or resources they feel will connect people to assistance.

 “Twenty years ago we thought a hot-line where you could talk to someone was amazing. But we also know that as technology evolves we have to evolve with it,” Maresca said. “We want to connect students to the appropriate resources.”

Use of the program is anonymous as the app itself, working as a conduit between student and mental health care provider, Maresca said.

With all of the stress in college the app is just a reminder that there are options, regardless of whether or not someone uses them, said Kira Loh, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year.

“It’s less intimidating than going out and finding help when you don’t really know where to start,” Loh said.

By Connie Capone

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