Important suicide prevention app gets revamp from PA, Columbia Lighthouse project

05 January 2024- Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh announced today a collaboration with The Columbia Lighthouse Project and mental health experts from across Pennsylvania to update the Columbia Protocol Mobile App. The Shapiro Administration acknowledges that the time around the holidays and start of a new year can be joyous and difficult for Pennsylvanians for many different reasons and that there are resources available to help. The Columbia Protocol Mobile App delivers the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), the most evidence-based tool designed to assess suicide risk severity. This app is made to be used by anyone, not just mental health professionals. It provides six simple questions that help identify individuals who are most at risk for dying by suicide and how to direct them to the resources they need.  

“Suicide and times of crisis do not discriminate, and people of all ages, genders, regions, and socioeconomic statuses may be affected at any point, but any one of us can be equipped with crisis first aid resources that may help us step in and help save a life,” said Secretary Arkoosh. “As the holiday season ends and a new year begins, we want you to know that there are resources available and people who are here for you. Resources like the Columbia Protocol app, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, and crisis centers, are equipped to support our loved ones who may be struggling so we can connect them to the care and support they need and prevent suicide.”   

The Columbia Protocol Mobile App is comprised of straightforward questions regarding the individual’s mental health. Based on the responses, the Columbia Protocol calculates a Low, Moderate, or High risk and connects them to local resources. Each risk category assigns recommended support resources and next steps. In all cases, a connection with a helping resource is recommended. The internationally used app was part of a collaboration between The Columbia Lighthouse Project, PS Solutions, DHS, and statewide partners at the Blair County Department of Social Services, Healthy Blair County Coalition, and members of the Garett Lee Smith Youth Suicide Prevention Grant Team.  

In Pennsylvania, 14 deaths per 100,000 people in 2021 were by suicide. The state is 38th in the country for suicide mortality. Across the US, rates of suicide went up by 4 percent from 2020 to 2021. It is also the third-leading cause of death in age groups 10-24 and 25- 34.   

Together, all Pennsylvanians can help prevent suicide. The Shapiro Administration is committed to preventing death by suicide by investing in mental health supports for Pennsylvanians. The 2023-2024 bipartisan budget that Governor Shapiro signed includes $20 million to increase funding for counties to provide critical mental health services. The budget also addresses the growing youth mental health crisis by providing $100 million for school-based mental health counselors and resources for students. Suicide prevention efforts have been ongoing in the Shapiro Administration, as well as through local suicide prevention organizations and coalitions. State agencies continue to collaborate through Pennsylvania’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, while working to advance the goals and objectives of Pennsylvania’s suicide prevention plan.   

In addition, Pennsylvania continues efforts to support of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. People who call, text, or chat with 988 are directly connected to trained, compassionate crisis response counselors. Lifeline services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at no cost to the caller. To learn more visit, www.dhs.pa.gov/988.  

“I am honored by the partnership with Pennsylvania in its innovative work on developing the Columbia Protocol app. This has been nothing short of groundbreaking in its lifesaving capacity for the residents of Pennsylvania and as a model for national and international innovation in suicide prevention,” said Dr. Kelly Posner, Founder & Director of The Columbia Lighthouse Project. “By leveraging technology, Pennsylvania is building bridges where suicide prevention historically stumbled, where we have lost so many lives. The Columbia app empowers us to save lives locally, nationally and across the globe.”   

The Columbia Lighthouse Project aims to save lives worldwide by promoting the use of the Columbia Protocol worldwide and by supporting organizations integrating it into their broader suicide prevention programs. The Columbia Protocol, also known as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), supports suicide risk detection through a series of questions. The answers help users identify whether someone is at risk for suicide, assess the severity and immediacy of that risk, and gauge the level of support that the person needs.  

The Columbia Protocol Mobile App is available for Android and iPhone. It can also be downloaded on your mobile device using Google Play Store or Apple Store.