Thursday, 1 May 2014

Crisis cards or a buddy – maybe an app will do?

In North Powys members of the mental health charity Ponthafren Association can apply for a crisis card. Traditionally such a card is used to give someone chance to say how they wish to be treated in a mental health emergency when they may have difficulty in making their wishes known. The card could contain a list of useful organisations that people could contact in a crisis, and also details of someone close to the person who should be contacted to support them through the crisis.

I was interested to know if other organisations are providing cards – we are occasionally asked this question by people emailing or ringing our Information Service, and so set about researching the topic online…

What soon became clear was that most of the pages in my “crisis card” search threw up historical documents. There was much of interest to be read about the original development of the crisis card, such as the fact that: the first card to be used in this country was developed by the UK-based International Self Advocacy Alliance and jointly launched with Survivors Speak Out in 1989.

Articles going back to the nineties, when the initiative was first being developed, included detailed analysis of potential content of crisis cards. Some discussion papers seemed to imply that a paper document the size of a book rather than a simple credit style card might be required, as described in this article in The Psychiatric Bulletin in 1998.

But times have moved on… and my ongoing search then revealed that paper copies of cards are being superseded in some areas of Britain by mobile phone apps providing a similar function. In Cambridgeshire the SUN (Service User Network) has developed and promoted its own crisis card mobile phone app, which was launched with a flash mob event in Cambridge city centre in December 2013.  According to the SUN Network website: "The crisis card mobile phone app provides a one-button-press ‘call for help’, so you can reach out to your support network without having to face a phone call".

The app is free, and whilst it has been developed and designed in Cambridgeshire it is available for use by anyone in the UK.

Kate Brown, physiotherapy lead for inpatient mental health services at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust, said: “The app is designed to help mental health service users in times of crisis but also as a way of monitoring their mental and physical health. We’ve demonstrated it to our ward staff and the staff have shown it to patients so they can use it after they have been discharged. It’s a new way of people getting help and it’s been welcomed by our staff and service-users.”

And mobile phone apps are not only being used to replace crisis cards but to support people experiencing mental distress in all kinds of situations. The apps are often developed by National Health Service trusts in consultation with people in contact with their services. A brief search highlighted the following readily available apps:

  • My Journey – developed by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Trust – by staff and people using the Early Intervention in Psychosis Service.
  • QDoc – developed by the Black Country Partnership NHS Trust – “to support mental health service users manage their consultations.”
  • Buddy – developed by South London & Maudsley NHS Trust - clients “use text messaging to keep a daily diary of what they are doing and how they are feeling, helping to spot and reinforce positive behaviours.”
And the NHS has, on its own website, a new library page dedicated purely to mental health apps, which have “been reviewed by clinicians to ensure that they are safe and trusted.” In a digital world where it can sometimes feel that we are being bombarded by apps we can at least feel somewhat reassured that someone has checked out the app for us in advance, perhaps? (Some of the apps are free, and others have to be paid for).

What do you think about mobile phone apps aimed at supporting people in mental health crisis or emotional distress? Have you tried one? If so, have you found one you like? If you haven’t tried one, would you like to? What about the range of apps available... do they cover approaches that interest you, or are there still gaps in provision? 

Would you rather have a real life buddy, a Buddy app, or both? Let us know what you think in the comments box below.

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