The hardest thing to do when you’re feeling suicidal is to reach out to talk to someone. Therapy apps like TalkSpace and BetterHelp are designed to help make it easier to talk to a therapist by connecting you directly to someone you can message or call any time. But they face a challenge when it comes to helping patients who are suicidal.
According to statistics from a 2019 report from nonprofit Mental Health America (MHA) on mental health in America, a whopping 56.4% of Americans (or over 24 million people) with a mental illness receive no treatment for their condition. The report provides a number of reasons for this — ranging from not having insurance coverage, mental health care not being covered by insurance, or the high costs of care — but the conclusion is staggering. Americans aren’t getting the mental health care they need.
That may be one of the reasons that therapy apps, which connect you directly with a therapist for a weekly or monthly fee, have grown so much in popularity. BetterHelp boasts over a million users, and competitor TalkSpace similarly claims to have had over a million users since going on the market. While both apps advise against using their services as your sole form of therapy, allowing users to message or call their assigned therapist — rather than having to wait for a preset appointment in an office — can be a helpful additional tool.
But these apps come with (at least) one serious limitation: They can’t be used to handle patients with suicidal thoughts. In the terms of service for both TalkSpace and BetterHelp, suicidal users are given a large, all-caps warning not to use their apps at all, and instead to reach out to a suicide hotline, or call 911. TalkSpace even offers a massive list of hotlines you can call in various countries.
Meanwhile, the problem of suicide in the United States is only getting more desperate. According to MHA’s report, over 9.8 million adults in the United States reported having serious suicidal thoughts, which is around 4% of all the adults in the country and about…