In case of emergency, break glass. This is a common sign in buildings where a fire extinguisher is available in case of fire. But you really need to have a safety plan ready in case the unthinkable happens so you know what to do and when to do it.

One such Safety Plan can be found on the Mobile Mental Health app developed by the National Center for PTSD and the Department of Defense’s DHA Connected Health. One of the modules of the app is the PTSD Coach in which Veterans or service members can develop their own Safety Plan.

The Safety Plan helps service members and Veterans identify suicide warning signs, create coping strategies, identify positive contacts and social settings to distract from crisis, identify Family members and friends available for help, find professional resources, and learn how to make their environment safe from lethal means that might enable a suicide to occur.

The advance and access to mobile technology led to the creation of the app, according to Katherine Juhasz, MS, Health Science Specialist at the National Center for PTSD.

“According to a Pew study, 81% of the general population owns a smartphone,” said Juhasz. “A study conducted in 2016 by Dr. Amanda Edwards-Stewart found 89% of service members own a smartphone. So the Veteran population is more likely than the average population in the U.S. to have access to a smartphone.”

Many people have Smartphones so they are easily accessible and discreet, according to Dr. Juhasz. So, there is no way of knowing whether someone is using a Mobile Mental Health app and engaging in a mindfulness activity or utilizing some other coping tool.

PTSD Coach was originally released in 2011. It was the very first VA/DoD app developed between the National Center for PTSD and what was then known as the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, or T2. It's now rebranded to the Defense Health Agency Connected Health Branch, where it has continued to maintain PTSD Coach over time.

The App has four main components: "Manage Symptoms," which are coping tools that people can manage in the moment of distress. You can browse tools designed to address symptoms such as mindfulness tools, relationship tools, and sleep tools. The “Learn” section provides resources to help you better understand PTSD and answer common questions you might have. It contains short readings that will help people better understand topics related to PTSD. “Get Support” is where you find the crisis resources and other topics related to expanding your support network or building it up.

You can also use this section to locate a mental health provider or treatment facility and learn about treatment options. It also has tips on communicating with your partner or children. Finally, the “Track Progress” section, has self-assessments of symptoms, gives helpful feedback, and tracks your progress over time. There is a scheduled assessments sections where you can schedule reminders. There is also a goal tracker in there as well so individuals can set their own goals and track their progress over time.

Having a Behavioral Health professional’s assistance in filling out the Safety Plan is helpful according to Juhasz.

“Having a professional fill it out with them is really critical in a lot of ways because if someone gets stuck or isn't really sure what to [include], that person is there to guide them through,” she said. “What we did with the app was try to capture a lot of that helpful information that a trained professional would be giving to somebody so that the patient could be completing this with a trained professional or they could also complete it on their own.”

Suicide prevention is a critical priority for Veterans and service members. We also know that suicidal ideation is often transient.

“It doesn't necessarily last for very long,” said Juhasz. ”If you can just delay somebody a little bit: 15-20 minutes, an hour, from accessing their lethal means, that can make the difference between life and death.”

Safety planning can reduce suicidal behaviors in high-risk patients.  For additional information on mobile apps and the PTSD Coach got to:

Other Resources:

National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)

American Association of Suicidology

Military /Veterans Crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255 press 1