The Maltese App Tackling A Darker Pandemic

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Mental health is never an easy subject to approach, but when an extreme crisis point is reached, immediate specialist care is needed. That’s exactly what the Kriżi app is here for. We spoke to Crisis Team Leader, Psychiatrist Dr Mark Xuereb, behind the project to see how it works and the goals the team is striving to achieve.

Long time coming

The first of its kind in Malta, this app specialises in the managing of thoughts and actions related to suicide and self-harm. “It’s the fruit of 10 years of our professionals’ local experience working in this area”, explains Dr Xuereb. “It’s an incisive yet simple way to tackle this serious issue, which unfortunately is becoming more and more common, around the world, not just in Malta.”

The 10-person strong team got together and described the patterns they had witnessed over the last 10 years. What was it that people needed? How were lives saved, how did they assuage and provide care not just to people who were suicidal, but also to their families and loved ones?

The app will also help in statistic collection (which is an international guidance requirement), which helps create localised treatment protocols, shaped to our own local culture. The app is made in Malta, engineered by Seeboo Limited and designed by Mario Borg.

Made in Malta

In fact, the app has been built entirely in Malta. Better yet, it’s more than dual language. Assistance can be provided in Maltese, English, and eventually, other languages like Swedish and Italian to name but a few. The way information is conveyed is simple and direct; no heavy terminology, just links that are specific for various cases and allow access to free therapy.

The app home screen

The app also hosts an anonymous chat line, and one can also find a Crisis Button. When this is pressed, two things happen. First, the person is put in direct contact with a therapist specialising in these scenarios; the second is that help can be dispatched immediately if needed. It’s necessary to have this option because sometimes the mind tires in such a way that no words and no prior therapy will change the thought trajectory.

Education is key

The app is a tool/vehicle to ultimately achieve the objective of stopping suicidal behaviour and thoughts, including self-harm. And the much-needed NSPS (National Suicide Prevention Strategy) embodies the different objectives that help us achieve this objective. From Dr Mark’s point of view, it’s clear what’s needed.

“There is still an incredible imbalance between physical and mental health, and we must pull our socks up. There needs to be a written commitment by the entities of the country outlining challenges and spotting gaps in the healthcare system, and it needs to be done hand in hand with all stakeholders involved and in line with a national suicide prevention strategy as happens in other EU countries.”

Suicide is the second biggest killer in the 15-35 age group, and a little bit of education could go a long way. There are issues of people not knowing exactly what they’re facing and therefore see no other alternative, but that one dark path. “Every year we will conduct a new study to see what’s working in our app and what’s not; we need to continue improving relentlessly”, said Dr Xuereb.

What else can be done?

There are a number of other preventative methods that could work, Mark suggests. “Fluorescent telephone booths in dangerous areas have shown to have a positive effect, as well as on-site motion sensors, infrared cameras and speakers”. What’s needed now is a streamlined effort where all stakeholders are towing the same line.

As work continues on the app, it might not be available on some devices for the time being as updates are made, but it should be available on Google Play Store at the time of this article’s publication.

The chat function opens directly into WhatsApp

Kriżi can be downloaded via Google and Apple Stores, completely free of charge. If you’re sad, lonely or can’t cope, Crisis Resolution Malta is there to help. Call the free 24/7 crisis specialist line on +356 9933 9966.

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