Smartphone App; New mental health app, designed to help manage negative emotions and periods of extreme anxiety for young people, could have a significant impact on reducing self-harm according to research. The ‘BlueIce’ app, developed in conjunction with patient groups by leading clinical psychologist Professor Paul Stallard, is now included in the national NHS app library. ‘BlueIce’, is a prescribed app and design to be use alongside traditional face-to-face therapies.

A series of recent research papers published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) suggest that BlueIce could help tackle self-harm, the hidden health challenge affecting many young people. Off the back of this, this September Professor Stallard will start a trial to monitor BlueIce’s impact and see if it reduces the number of kids rushed to Accident and Emergency (A&E) Services.

Smartphone App Offers Hope

BlueIce is named to be discreet. Although it does not directly mention self harm; ‘BlueIce’ refers both to low mood (blue) and in case of emergency (ice). It consists of three parts: mood monitoring; mood lifting and routing to emergency numbers. Through it, young users monitor their mood each day; so recording how they are feeling. If their mood is low, they are automatically route to the mood lifting section which includes evidence base ideas from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

CBT helps users re-evaluate and develop alternative; so more helpful ways of dealing with distressing thoughts whilst DBT helps them to tolerate their distress without self harming. This section is personalise by the user to capture helpful ideas and materials such as activities which make them feel good; including an uplifting music library or a photo gallery of good times.

The app includes audio relaxation and mindfulness guides and opportunities to record and challenge any destructive or distressing thoughts. Ultimately, and if necessary, the app can route users through to emergency contacts including Childline and the 111 service. Analysing the impact of ‘BlueIce’ at just 12 weeks on a group aged 12-17, Professor Stallard and the research team involved found that three quarters of the young people assess either stop or reduce their self-harming as a result of the app.

Availability of smartphone apps

“BlueIce is a prescribe app to be use alongside traditional face-to-face appointments with a child and adolescent worker. It helps the young person to monitor and manage their unpleasant emotions and to find alternative ways of coping. Feedback from young users has been overwhelmingly positive, and there’s a huge potential for it to make a difference to young lives across the UK and internationally.”

Self-harm is common among adolescents and is with a higher risk of suicide. Up to 18% of adolescents will engage in an act of self-harm. Nearly all self-harm occurs in private. Recent years have seen a significant increase in the availability of smartphone apps for mental health problems. Despite their proliferation, very few apps have develop for and with young people; also almost none have been subject to any form of evaluation.

The NHS library contains apps that have gone through both clinical and technical reviews. There were over a quarter of a million visits in the last year and more than half of those were from mobile phones. It is hope the development and rollout of BlueIce can become an important element in upcoming government strategies; which covering mental health and suicide prevention; so as well as the wider NHS digital health drive.