Samaritans Self-Help App Prevented This Person From Self-Harming
This week, May 18-24, is Mental Health Awareness Week, a time dedicated to encouraging conversations about our thoughts, feelings and struggles.
Opening up about mental health can be difficult for a number of reasons; whether you feel there’s no one who wants to listen, you don’t want to feel vulnerable, or you don’t want to feel like a ‘burden’ to others.
This year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness; something we should display towards other people as well as ourselves, and our emotional wellbeing.
In an effort to put the theme into practice and to encourage people to focus on their mental health, suicide prevention charity Samaritans has launched Samaritans Self-Help, an app that allows users to log their feelings and get advice about how to cope if they are struggling.
Following its release, John Junior, a mental health campaigner from Cheshire who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, tested Samaritans Self-Help to see how it benefitted their moods and mental health.
John, who is gender fluid and uses the pronouns they/them, was diagnosed in August 2019 but has experienced symptoms of borderline personality disorder for more than 20 years.
John told UNILAD the condition affects them daily and makes them feel as though they are on a ‘constant unstable emotional rollercoster’, making it difficult for them to regulate their emotions and impulses.
Together with a stuffed toy duck named Charlie, which brings John comfort from stress, John travels to raise awareness for those suffering with their mental health.
After using Samaritans Self-Help for a couple of days, John commended the app for being ‘amazing’ and revealed it helped prevent them from self-harming.
Describing the app, Samaritans said:
The app will help anyone who finds it difficult to discuss their feelings with other people access helpful resources that are appropriate for them.
It provides a secure, anonymous space where anyone can work through things that are troubling them without speaking to a volunteer.
Our listening service details are displayed prominently, so they can be found easily if people decide they would like to speak to a volunteer at any point.
The launch of the self-help app is particularly pertinent at the moment, when people who may have found emotional comfort in seeing family and friends are now being encouraged to keep their distance.
Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland pointed out the ‘need for digital resources to support our mental wellbeing has never been greater’, and as such the app aims to provide ‘another channel of support for people during this challenging and worrying time’.
The charity also offers a listening service, though the app may prove more useful to those who struggle to express their feelings out loud. Any information input into the app is confidential and cannot be accessed by anyone else.
John told UNILAD isolation has made them feel ‘trapped’, as they’re unable to go to their doctor or see people with who they can talk about their mental health. With that in mind, John commended the app for giving ‘instant support’ and offering the ‘help and guidance’ they needed when they were struggling.
I know sometimes we don’t like to try new things and I don’t, but I know this is going to help me, and it has a lot. I didn’t self-harm because this app helped me, and I feel really proud of that!
It is packed with all the information, help, support and reassurance you need.
Samaritans Self-Help features a mood tracker that allows users to record how they feel, and recommends relevant evidence-based coping techniques in response.
The charity told UNILAD it used ‘solid academic evidence’ to create the recommendations, and it also worked with ‘people with experience of emotional distress and mental ill health’ to find out what techniques have proved most useful.
We’ve used this to develop several versions of the app, which were all tested with other people who have had similar experiences, and the version you see has been based on what we found was useful for these people when they were struggling.
John enjoyed logging their feelings on the app as it allowed them to lay bare their emotions; a technique that ‘instantly made [them] feel better’.
Techniques on the app include muscle relaxation and breathing practises, written exercises and suggestions for non-screen-based activities like volunteering, which people can build into their daily lives to practise kindness to themselves as well as kindness to others.
While testing the app, John tried three of the recommended activities, including finding new music, doing a colouring book and researching something that interested them.
Though they were skeptical at first, John found the techniques ‘really helped with the way [they were] feeling’.
The mental health advocate’s favourite part of the app was the ‘safety plan’, which allows users to log examples of things they can do to stay safe if they’re thinking about harming themselves. John created their plan when they were feeling ‘alright’, then looked back on it when they were feeling low and found it ‘helped a lot’.
Discussing the safety plan, Samaritans told UNILAD:
Safety planning is a technique that helps people know how to stay safe in the event that they experience crisis, when it can be much harder to know what to do. When speaking to people who have experienced emotional distress, we learnt that creating a safety plan, even if it is never used, can provide reassurance as well.
John encouraged those struggling with their mental health to give the app a try, pointing out: ‘It’s great to learn new techniques to help you cope.’
The 31-year-old decided to become a mental health advocate after ‘suffering in silence for more than 20 years’, during which time they experienced bullying, abusive relationships, depression and anxiety.
John told UNILAD:
I felt vulnerable, scared and anxious of being judged, I kept my feelings locked up, fake smiling for years in silence.
John long felt like there was no one they could talk to, and after deciding they needed change they stepped ‘out of [their] comfort zone’ and opened up about their feelings on social media.
The advocate is now in the process of registering a nonprofit charity through which they hope to fund a wellbeing centre dedicated to mental health, domestic abuse and suicide prevention.
I get a lot of people who message me and talk to me because I understand suffering with mental health issues, including people who are suffering with domestic abuse and suicidal thoughts.
I love talking to others, it helps me, it gives me therapy, keeps my mind active and busy. I point them in the right direction of helplines and the right support and resources for them.
It does not do your mental health any good keeping your feelings locked up.
As well as launching the new app, Samaritans has also created new online resources for people who are supporting someone who is struggling, offering practical ways for people to look after themselves while also supporting others, as John often does.
Samaritans stressed the importance of practicing kindness no matter what situation you may be in, saying:
Deciding to speak to ourselves as we would do to a friend often reveals that we are own harshest critics.
Treating ourselves with more kindness can improve self-esteem and resilience, combat difficult feelings and lower the amount of anxiety we feel.
The charity hopes the self-help app will make it easier for people who struggle to identify their feelings to monitor their mental wellbeing and explain it to others, should they feel the need.
Samaritans Self-Help also aims to help people challenge feelings that have been shown to lead to more severe distress in some people, with the hope that by using the app to address these thoughts early on, the likelihood of more severe feelings developing may reduce.
In the future the charity hopes to offer its forthcoming online chat service through the app, providing yet another avenue of support to those in need.
The potential to feel lonely and down has only been heightened due to social distancing guidelines, but hopefully the app will prove useful to those struggling with their mental health with its easily accessible advice and recommendations.
Kindness is key in these tough times, and we deserve to practice it with ourselves just as much as we do with others.
You can download Samaritans Self-Help to your mobile or access it online here.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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