Blair supports anti-suicide app

HOLLIDAYSBURG — Blair County leaders are supporting an effort to develop a cellphone app offering appropriate questions and advice to help those believed to be to at risk of committing suicide.

Blair County commissioners voted Tuesday to support the signing of an agreement, outlined by Department of Social Services Director Jim Hudack, whose office will work on creating the app with Professional Staffing Solutions LLC of Altoona, also known as PS Solutions.

Joe Merilli, managing partner and founding principal of PS Solutions, also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“We hope to roll it out in late January or early February,” Merilli said.

Hudack said his department has $8,450 available to cover the cost of development but other local organizations may be willing to share the expense.

Hudack said he sees the development of the app as another tool to enhance suicide prevention efforts, building on a questionnaire available through the Columbia Lighthouse Pro­ject, a suicide-prevention effort formed by Columbia University. The project included development of the Columbia-Suicide Ra­ting Scale, which provides a series of up to seven questions to ask about someone’s interest in killing themselves.

“This is a paper and pencil assessment,” Hudack said.

But if those same questions are available via a cellphone app, then local telephone numbers and instructions can be listed, Hudack said.

Commissioners Chair­man Bruce Erb said he immediately liked the idea because it sounds like it provides easy access to questions that can be used by first responders, clergy, family and friends.

Every time someone commits suicide, Erb said, people typically wonder if there was anything they could have done to have prevented it.

“This kind of app should put someone in a position to do something,” Erb said.

The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale questions include: Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up? Have you had any actual thoughts of killing yourself? Have you been thinking about how you might do this? Have you started to work out or worked out the details of how to kill yourself?”

The rating scale indicates that any yes answers should be taken seriously and prompt the seeking of help from family and/or friends. For those with yes answers to select questions, the respondents are advised to seek medical care.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.