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Ask HN: I'm 15, won a grant to develop a suicide prevention app, what next?
252 points by krrishd on Nov 18, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 157 comments
Some background: I'm 15 years old, attend high school, do well in terms of grades and extracurriculars (business clubs/competitions), and also am a pretty good front-end developer experienced with HTML/Jade,CSS/LESS, JS/jQuery/AngularJS, and Phonegap/Cordova. I've worked on several web projects in the past, such as http://teen2geek.com, and my portfolio is at http://krrishd.github.io, just to get an idea of what I can do in web development (not so good at the backend though).

I recently took part in a social entrepreneurship competition to prevent suicide, and I envisioned a specific app, and the idea won a grant. This app is somewhat similar to some social networks you've seen, and is a bit complex to develop for a front-end guy like me. The grant is a "micro-grant", so it isn't anything substantial, and I'm not sure if outsourcing can retain the quality necessary for such an app.

What do you think I should do?

I would encourage you to write the entire thing, frontend, backend, content, PR releases, etc.

Two reasons:

1. You're young and still figuring out what you love doing; no better time to experiment and learn. I still have fond memories over the php site I wrote in high school. You could visible tell which functions were written at the beginning of the project versus the end because you'll improve drastically. [1]

2. The project will be more successful with someone who cares for it. Hiring a contractor will make it difficult for you to maintain and improve. Contractors will also expect a specification with penalties if you need to change it. My guess is that you're still experimenting with what can best serve the community so this probably isn't a good fit for contracting as well.

[1] Recommended tech stack (optimizing for documentation and availability of help). Ruby, MongoDB, Heroku (or if ambitious, Linux on Amazon EC2 + nginx). Everything else is pretty similar so once you learn these, the concepts apply reasonably well.

p.s. If money is a concern, you should look into contacting some companies PR/DevRel people and see if they are willing to donate some compute time or services to your cause. (It's probably doing this after launch and getting a better sense of usage and will be easier to convince them that you're legit).

Additionally if he's looking for assistance in the backend front I'm more than willing to help out. I can't necessarily pick up a new project, but I do know how invaluable it is to have someone to bounce ideas and questions off of.

I work primarily with Python and Angular at the moment, but I can provide assistance in other areas as well. OP, if you'd like to take me up on this offer just connect with me on GitHub (link in profile) and I'll shoot you a message.

If he's already familiar with front-end development, I'd recommend something like Meteor rather than Ruby. Because it's JavaScript, it will seem a lot more familiar than Ruby. And it will hide a lot of the complexity of client-server interaction until the point when you feel like diving into it. It's really perfect for fast prototyping and proof-of-concept sites like the poster is looking to build.

Doesn't it have major scaling problems? I've seen many recommendations that it's not yet ready for anything with complexity.

I generally agree with all of this. Backend is not as scary as you might assume, and it's not hard to ship something that works.

no kidding, I'm finding Angular / JS a pill compared to Laravel/Rails backends.

You are working on something important, and I was glad to read (and upvote) a lot of the other comments you received, and especially the offers for pro-bono help. One comment below suggested that you read the literature (I presume that means the literature about suicide prevention) and I would second that advice. To expand that advice a bit, I'll note that Martin E. P. Seligman and some other psychologists who have studied depression and suicide think that the "self esteem" movement that took over United States schools after I graduated from high school may have actually INCREASED risk of suicide in the United States--certainly the rates of both attempted and completed suicide, and the rate of diagnosed youth depression, went up over the years when those school programs were put in place. In other words, don't just rely on intuition about what would be helpful, but look into actual research. Seligman's books Learned Optimism[1] and The Optimistic Child[2] are both helpful, although there should be some even newer research out by now. Reading those books may help you deal with the challenges of working on this interesting project while keeping up with your school work. Best wishes.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Learned-Optimism-Change-Your-Mind/dp/1...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/The-Optimistic-Child-Depression-Resili...

"the "self esteem" movement that took over United States schools after I graduated from high school may have actually INCREASED risk of suicide in the United States"

Yes, "self esteem" is again putting the individual up directly in front of themselves to examine and focus on which only brings existing problems into sharp center-focus. Depression and Pride both have a common denominator in too much self-absorption.

This is one of the most common misconceptions in my opinion of depression. Depression is not caused by self absorption. Depression is not vanity, imagine someone who has been rejected by a loved one. A depressed person might think, "I was never good enough for them," while a person who is not depressed might think, "I learned a lot and will do better next time." Viewing them as selfish or self absorbed is completely wrong. Do you think the depressed person wants to feel like they are not good enough? Is non depressed person self absorbed for their thinking?

> "I was never good enough for them."

> "I learned a lot and will do better next time."

Both of those are pretty self-absorbed (which is not the same as vane). In both scenarios you are seen as the person responsible, even though the rejection came from someone else.

What if our theoretical person is responsible? Everyone is going to view any event like this with some sort of "self-absorbed" (I disagree with your definition of self absorbed here, but lets continue) response because they had some part in it (by your definition). The difference between a Depressed person and a non depressed person's response is the self deprecating thoughts. "Self Absorbed" has nothing to do with it.

I'm curious as to what you are saying here. Poor self esteem is healthier? People shouldn't have self esteem, positive or negative? Or they should, but we should ignore it?

I think he's saying that falsely implanted self-esteen, a la "everyones a unique special winner!", is a problem. When everyone is told over and over again while growing up that they are great and their self-esteem is artificially inflated, they inevitably experience some amount of cognitive dissonance and maybe even depression at the realization somewhere down the road that they're probably not as unique, special, talented, or great as they were told they were as a kid.

This could set someone up for any number of positive or negative effects, emotions, or actions, from long term depression or suicidal feelings to a burning desire to really improve themselves to actually become that unique and talented person they were told they are.

> I think he's saying that falsely implanted self-esteen, a la "everyones a unique special winner!", is a problem.

I certainly hated that growing up. It was years before I could believe I had done anything right, because people would say the same things either way.

But I think tokenadult was actually proposing something else: not focusing on oneself so much. Much like CS Lewis's concept of humility: "could create the greatest cathedral in the world, know it is the best, and rejoice in the fact that it is the most wondrous of all cathedrals; without being any more or less glad that he created it than he would be if someone else had created the cathedral."

Or to take another CS Lewis quote: "And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind - is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself." Focusing on self-esteem instead of the goal or substance at hand is shutting a creature within the dungeon of its own mind. That really is a great phrase for it.

I don't really have a response to this other than to say that I like what you wrote and what CS Lewis wrote. Thanks for telling us about it. It is truly or relevant to the obsession over self-esteem today.

There are a bunch of 'positive thinking'-style things that claim to 'increase self esteem', but actually intentionally cause unrealistic expectations - and when those expectations aren't met, then the larger the gap/mismatch between expectations and reality, the greater damage to self esteem.

I think that sometimes increasing your self-esteem depends on factors totally outside of your control. However, a lot of self-esteem programs seem to think that change depends entirely on the individual. Depression comes from the difference between reality and what you think it should be.

Goals aren't results. A movement with the stated goal of "increasing self esteem" is not guaranteed to actually increase self-esteem, nor is there any guarantee that the only effect of the movement will be on self-esteem. Further, the stated reasons the movement had for increasing self-esteem are themselves goals of the movement, which are also not results; nothing guarantees that increased self-esteem will actually have the results those who were in the movement believe, nor that those would be the only results.

(This is one of those things that when I say it, it sounds trivial, but I observe that there is a very pervasive cognitive bias to assume that stated goals === results, in a wide variety of contexts.)

I second the advice to familiarize yourself with the literature, and would like to add a strong word of caution at the same time.

A disclaimer: I speak out of personal experience with this topic, and I did not read most of the comments that you've already received (sorry, wish I had the time).

So here's my word of caution:

You must be aware that you are intentionally brainwashing yourself into a biased worldview by reading all of these books on suicide prevention.

Every book on suicide prevention has the premise that suicide is "bad", after all, that is why the author wrote it, and that is what they are trying to prevent.

It does not matter a lick how scientific their "data points are", if the premise that they are starting out with is based on a biased point of view.

You will join their ranks if you don't keep this in mind.

Therefore, in addition to all of the literature on suicide prevention that you read, I strongly recommend reading literature that supports suicide.

Books that support suicide use a different word, but it is the same thing. These books employ the same linguistic trick that books attempting to prevent suicide use: they use words.

Words have unspoken meaning associated with them, that only exists ephemerally in the culture in which they are used. You may or may not find this hidden meaning in dictionaries.

These two words have in fact the exact same meaning, when it comes to the end act. Their meaning only slightly diverges when you take the cultural connotation and circumstances surrounding their use. Nevertheless, they really should be treated (by you) as synonyms, because the reasons that the people you are trying to prevent from killing themselves are usually the same in each case.

Word #1: Suicide

    - the action of killing oneself intentionally:
    - a course of action that is disastrously damaging to oneself
      or one's own interests
Word #2: Euthanasia

    - the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable
      and painful disease or in an irreversible coma. The practice
      is illegal in most countries.
For your project, I will throw a devil's advocate accusation at you, and call you, and anyone in this thread who supports your cause, a terrorist and/or sadist. I will accuse you of in fact not helping people, but misguidedly (due to complete and utter ignorance on your part) torturing people by encouraging them to experience more suffering.

Further, I will claim that unless you can see this point of view, your project will be an utter failure, and will not achieve any success beyond what existing measures have achieved.

To understand suicide, you have to understand wanting to kill yourself, and you cannot understand this intellectually, you have to have experienced it yourself (or have a great "emotional imagination", aka ability to empathize). How can you help anyone with a concept that you have no understanding of yourself? That is the road to failure.

Suicide is a very rational reaction to life. I've seen people call those who want to kill themselves "selfish", when it's clear that it is the other person who is selfish, and wants the person to stick around and suffer, only to spare themselves suffering.

So, to start you off, you may want to compliment your reading by familiarizing yourself with real suicide notes, before you even think about writing a single line of code. Here are some I found via some googling (I cannot vouch for their authenticity though):

http://theholydark.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/some-painfully-e... (references this page that is no longer online: https://web.archive.org/web/20130112214925/http://www.well.c... )

I'll play devil's advocate to your devil's advocate, then. You are a callous human being who encourages countless needless deaths to justify your personal experiences, especially deaths of teenagers.

So, now that we've got the hyperbole and name-calling out of the way: Many suicides are based on a misguided notion that the suffering is endless an interminable. I happen to actually support assisted suicide and "the right to death", but I'm painfully aware that the decision is rather irrevocable and requires strong safeguards.

If an app or a book convinces you to not commit suicide, the likelihood is high that what you're experiencing is strong emotional pain that is quite likely to subside. If your ideation is based on actual incurable physical pain, or merely the idea that you have lived a full life, a simple app or book will not convince you otherwise.

To the OP: Work with a suicide prevention organization. The Trevor organization is a great place to start. (Disclaimer - I've worked with them for a while, presenting to LGBT youth)

I'll play devil's advocate to your devil's advocate, then. You are a callous human being who encourages countless needless deaths to justify your personal experiences, especially deaths of teenagers.

Touché, I agree the hyperbole was unnecessary and over the top (probably got generated by some emotional trigger that I didn't do a good job of moderating). Just to clarify though, I _don't_ "encourage countless needless deaths".

If an app or a book convinces you to not commit suicide, the likelihood is high that what you're experiencing is strong emotional pain that is quite likely to subside.

I agree with this and the rest of your comment. :)

Obviously, you have strong opinions about this subject and I will try to tread carefully, but your comment reads like you are not in favor an app that attempts to assist in preventing suicide.

And on this point: > To understand suicide, you have to understand wanting to kill yourself, and you cannot understand this intellectually, you have to have experienced it yourself.

Not all people who attempt suicide have the same mindset. I know people who have attempted suicide (one guy's face is disfigured due to a self-inflicted gun shot) and they do not even remotely suggest that suicide could possibly be anything but bad.

> Not all people who attempt suicide have the same mindset. I know people who have attempted suicide (one guy's face is disfigured due to a self-inflicted gun shot) and they do not even remotely suggest that suicide could possibly be anything but bad.

Yes, that's a great point. There are a variety of viewpoints to consider, and it's important to understand the context in which they all occur.

I'm sure the person you're referring to did not have that opinion a few moments before pulling the trigger, otherwise he wouldn't have done it. The surviving individual cannot be said to be the same one who pulled the trigger, in spite of appearances. His life went on, and in a radically different direction.

> I'm sure the person you're referring to did not have that opinion a few moments before pulling the trigger, otherwise he wouldn't have done it

But I think that's exactly where suicide and euthanasia are different, where you claim they are synonyms. Euthanasia is for people that are suffering, in pain, and cannot get better. Suicide, in the context of depression and other mental illnesses, is for people that are suffering, in pain, and can get better.

Not to suggest that the suffering or pain is any different, but that the available treatments are very much different. I would argue that your points of view are more akin to terrorism and/or sadist, because you're peddling the kind of information that leads these people to truly believe that they can't get better.

And that's why a project, that the OP is attempting, is virtuous IMO. I agree with other commenters here that there are some very very important considerations though, and it should not just be released onto the world without very careful scrutiny, both legal and medical.

> But I think that's exactly where suicide and euthanasia are different, where you claim they are synonyms. Euthanasia is for people that are suffering, in pain, and cannot get better. Suicide, in the context of depression and other mental illnesses, is for people that are suffering, in pain, and can get better.

I'm sorry, but where did you find the Guidebook To Life that lays out the precise rules of what is and isn't an acceptable time for suicide? And what is the reason we should follow the advice in this book as opposed to some other book that says the exact opposite?

Regarding mental illness, that is in fact some of the worst type of illness you can get (I personally feel it is the worst type). You can carry on just fine without an arm or a leg (or no arms and no legs![1]), but mental illness is a monster that will truly crush the very core of your being and make life agony 24/7.

Now you come along and say, "But wait! It Gets Better™!"

Except that's not true.

What you mean to say is: "Wait, it might get better!"

Except, depending on the mental illness, the chances of it getting better in any meaningfully amount of time can be zero.

There are different levels of depression, for example, and many people who say they've been depressed haven't actually experienced depression at its worst. Depression is one of the worst "illnesses" that can happen to you (at its extreme), and it _will_ kill you if it's severe enough (by getting you to kill yourself).

The type of agony associated with such a disease is unimaginable to someone who hasn't experienced it, and isn't even necessarily recallable to someone who experienced it in the past, but it is real, and you'd better respect the person who tells you that they want to kill themselves.

In such situations, I believe that the "right answer" (if there is one), is the one the person chooses to make, whether it is to kill themselves, or not. The possibility of their situation improving is not in any way a justification for them to continue the very real and immediate torture that they're going through.

At that point it's up to them whether there is anything left that they want to continue staying alive for or not. That's a decision that they have to make, and I respect it, regardless of what they choose.

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=nick+vujicic

I feel we're approaching this topic in very different directions. Let me rephrase both arguments, and let me know if I've rephrased correctly or not.

Your point is; how can you call suicide a bad or evil thing if it relieves pain and suffering in exactly the same way that the traditional definition of euthanasia does.

My point is; suicide prevention isn't just about demonising suicide, the act, but about helping people not get to the point where they feel/know that suicide is the only option.

Suicide/euthanasia is a tragedy. It means that we, as a society, have failed someone. Whether that is an inability to cure cancer, or cure depression.

I'm not qualified or experienced enough to really comment on the rest, so I'll leave it at that.

Your point is; how can you call suicide a bad or evil thing if it relieves pain and suffering in exactly the same way that the traditional definition of euthanasia does.

I very much appreciate you reaching out in such a way. It helps to know that we're working toward an understanding of perspectives, instead of arguing. Thank you.

That is not quite my point. I do accept the possibility of a "dishonorable" or "reckless" suicide, but I suspect such cases are the exception, rather than rule, given the significant taboo suicide carries today.

My point is; suicide prevention isn't just about demonising suicide, the act, but about helping people not get to the point where they feel/know that suicide is the only option.

Re: "isn't just about demonising suicide", the demonization of suicide is one of the key issues that I was getting at in my post. It hurts everyone involved. Family members wake up one day only to find their loved one dead all of a sudden. This happens because of said demonization. It wouldn't happen if suicide weren't illegal, if people weren't locked up against their will when they say they are suicidal, etc. A suicidal person should be free to talk about killing themselves with those close to them without fear of loss of liberty, social ostracization, and chemical rape. A son, father, daughter, mother, wife, husband, should be able to speak openly with their family about wanting out. Unfortunately, it seems our society is not mature enough for such conversation, and thus suicide becomes an agony for all involved. The person who killed themselves went through extra guilt and agony, and those surviving are also left feeling guilty, indignant, upset, angry, depressed, etc.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Re: "not get to the point where they feel/know that suicide is the only option", I can't comment on that without a concrete example. People get sideswiped and end up close to the edge. It can happen gradually, or very suddenly. Each situation is unique, and must be treated as such.

FFS, this is not an anti-euthanasia project. Euthanasia is distinct from suicide, and is usually treated as such by people campaigning or working in the area.

> For your project, I will throw a devil's advocate accusation at you, and call you, and anyone in this thread who supports your cause, a terrorist and/or sadist. I will accuse you of in fact not helping people, but misguidedly (due to complete and utter ignorance on your part) torturing people by encouraging them to experience more suffering.

How does this help discussion?

> FFS, this is not an anti-euthanasia project.

Indeed. I didn't say or think that it was.

> Euthanasia is distinct from suicide, and is usually treated as such by people campaigning or working in the area.

Yes, they treat it differently and invent various criteria and judgements on what is and isn't an acceptable reason to commit suicide.

Frankly, it's all a mis-mash of opinions and cultural beliefs. If you were in Japan a few centuries ago, you'd think it was perfectly rational and reasonable to gut yourself just because you shamed yourself (or your family/lord).

And frankly, you'd be just as right about that opinion as the folks working in Euthanasia are about theirs today.

>How does this help discussion?

The hyperbole doesn't help (I addressed this in another reply to someone else), but there was a point there that just wasn't stated very eloquently, and that is that our present culture (in the United States and many other places) does, many times, actually result in people suffering more than they otherwise should, were suicide/euthanasia a more normalized and talked about practice.

The problem with your argument is that you assume that attempts at suicide are being supported by some sort of logical reasoning that inevitably leads to the conclusion of killing oneself.

This is rarely the case, and is mostly seen in instances of euthanasia where the sufferer has no chance of life improvement due to an irreversible decline in health, and thus requests an assisted suicide.

Whereas those who are suicidal due to depression tend to take the irrational view that their mental anguish will never cease. This is bias towards extreme pessimism, not rationality.

The thought of suicide does not usually arise "rationally", but usually due to anxiety created by the context/environment/society. There is no rational argument that ends with "Therefore, die" just like there ain't any that says "Therefore, live". Rationally, living on and "fixing things" seems like a better way to alleviate the suffering, suicide is a very crude and dumb measure, eliminating any possibility of suffering and "non-suffering".

If it was a purely random or logical decision how can you explain the differences in suicide rates among different groups (e.g. males)?

> you have to understand wanting to kill yourself

I 'm willing to bet that everyone has had that thought at least once in their life.

Way to dump your own depressive tendencies on a 15 year old. Jesus.

But he has a good point. I don't think we can say that "suicide" is a universally Bad Thing, and I think it's fair to say that if you want to help prevent suicide, you could benefit from trying very hard to understand the mindset of a person who is contemplating suicide. Reading and understanding the arguments for suicide strike me as a very valuable tool in accomplishing that. You can't really understand suicide unless you yourself are feeling suicidal, but if you approach if from multiple directions / angles and kinda circle around it, you may be able to gain a better appreciation for it (without needing to become suicidal yourself).

All of this said, and saying this as someone who has contemplated suicide at least once in my life, I don't know much much any kind of app is really going to help. The times in my life that I've been depressed enough to think thoughts like that, I doubt I would have pulled up an app and consulted it.

Same deal with "Suicide prevention hotlines". My feeling is that many people who contemplate suicide don't want to be talked out of it, and won't call the hotline no matter how well publicized it is or whatever. When you're suicidal, you're in a totally different mental state where the normal rules just don't apply.

Which leads back to my saying that you can't really understand suicide, and why I think the GP post was valuable.

But reading "pro euthanasia" information is going to be very very different from reading "pro suicide" information.

> All of this said, and saying this as someone who has contemplated suicide at least once in my life, I don't know much much any kind of app is really going to help.

I gently agree. I hope it gets some research and oversight. And, if it works I hope it takes off.

> Same deal with "Suicide prevention hotlines". My feeling is that many people who contemplate suicide don't want to be talked out of it, and won't call the hotline

The Samaritans tend to say that they're not a "suicide prevention" hotline for that reason. They even say that they'll stay on the phone with you as you die if that's what you want. They say they just listen. This is for exactly the reason you mention - people don't want preachy "don't do it" advice, but they might want to just talk to someone.

> When you're suicidal, you're in a totally different mental state where the normal rules just don't apply.

Yes. And sometimes all that's needed is a small diversion, a bit of distraction, to allow the person to make it through the night without the attempted suicide, and to thus get help from doctors in the morning.

> Which leads back to my saying that you can't really understand suicide, and why I think the GP post was valuable.

I don't understand my own suicide attempts. I certainly don't understand the completed suicides of friends and acquaintances. I'd be foolish if I pretended to understand the completed or attempted of people in other nations (with different cultural expectations and so on). But GPs post (while it may have had a germ of useful information) is just weird and misleading.

Most people contemplating suicide are not in a position where euthanasia would be considered - they're suffering from some mental health problem. "Wanting to kill yourself" is not a rational reaction to life events. At least, not for most of the people who complete suicide. Some relatively minor interventions (a low interest loan of $4,000; some good debt advice; better lawyers and a decent legal system; housing advice; etc) would prevent many suicides. To suggest that suicide is a rational choice when the person is not capable of making a rational choice about life is cruel.

Way to dump your own depressive tendencies on a 15 year old. Jesus.

^-- A perfect example of the ignorance that I mentioned, thank you.

To Krish: remember, people who contemplate suicide are constantly faced with such ignorance, and so in the cultures where such attitudes are common, suicide happens unexpectedly (and this is most of the world). Then people "wish they could have said how much they loved them", etc. etc.

Ignorance? Oh my. Unfortunately, I satisfy your criteria required for understanding suicide, so I vehemently disagree with your assertion that "Suicide is a very rational reaction to life."

Especially when we're discussing teenagers, who haven't even lived one fifth of their expected lifespan.

> Especially when we're discussing teenagers,

...and who haven't finished cognitive development.

> Unfortunately, I satisfy your criteria required for understanding suicide, so I vehemently disagree with your assertion that "Suicide is a very rational reaction to life."

OK, you're certainly entitled to your opinion and to disagree with mine.

Especially when we're discussing teenagers, who haven't even lived one fifth of their expected lifespan.

It was only a short time ago that it was common in Europe and elsewhere for 15 year olds to be starting families.

Today, many 15 year olds (and younger), commit suicide.

What exactly are you seeking to accomplish by emphasizing his age and your arbitrary requirement on what the "right amount of life" is?

I understand your view point, and will keep it in mind while designing the app.

+1 :)

If you are suicidal and someone tells you that action 'X' will convince you to change your views and want to go on living, why would you 'take action X'?

The result 'want to go on living' is not a goal you want to reach.

(Where 'X' might be phoning a helpline, downloading an app, talking to a therapist, doing a thought experiment).

But that doesn't mean your desire to commit suicide is valid and coherent and respectable. We, the living, agree that living is better than non-living, that happiness is better than sadness, and that health is better than illness.

When someone is too ill to physically take care of themselves, we take over and act where possible "in their best interests" until they recover.

When someone is suicidal, they don't want to go on living, and offering help isn't enough because they won't reach out and take it. The only respectable act on our part is to consider them incapable and take over control of their life, assume their best interest is 'survival' and help them towards that.

anyone in this thread who supports your cause, a terrorist and/or sadist. I will accuse you of in fact not helping people, but misguidedly (due to complete and utter ignorance on your part) torturing people by encouraging them to experience more suffering.

Why would you assume that the goal would be to dump the person right into a life of suffering, instead of to help them out of the suffering as well? Current suicide prevention interventions don't always help as much as they could, but that's rather because they are implemented poorly than because they want people to suffer.

Empirically, most suicides have more to do with corrupted thinking processes than a negative total life value expectation. Often the corrupted thinking process can be directly observed without knowledge of the suicide attempt. Often, people who are prevented from suicide are later grateful in ways that are unlikely to be faked.

I don't see much that an anti-suicide app could do in the cases where it is a rational decision, whereas it probably could provide relevant information and perspective to people who need it. So that sounds like an overall good thing (so long as it doesn't invoke forced hospitalization or drug changes or other backfiring interventions).


  Suicide is a very rational reaction to life.
Contemplating suicide can be a rational reaction to introspective inquiry into the state of 'being alive'. However, committing suicide is never a rational action. There is no logical argument that leads to the conclusion that suicide must be committed, because there is no set of purely objective premises from which the argument can start. There is always a premise that introduces someone's beliefs about the value of being alive and that premise cannot be defined in rational terms. In the end it is always a circular argument: I must commit suicide, because circumstances are such that I believe I should commit suicide.

By which I say absolutely nothing about the ethics of, or the validity of emotional arguments for, committing suicide.

This is a likely to be a very challenging project. A few things to consider:

* Anonymity is vitally important, especially since you are an inexperienced programmer with a high risk of introducing security holes. Don't collect any personal details (including email addresses) that could cause problems for people if they were leaked. Don't implement Facebook or Google signin!

* If there are any social components at all, consider the potential impact of trolls. This project may require 24/7 moderation.

* This is a major emotional commitment. Talking down suicidal strangers is not something to go in to lightly! Make sure you have a professional advisory network in place.

Since lots of people have offered to help, I suggest getting them added to a mailing list ASAP while they are interested.

You could consider building the project in public on GitHub - that would allow technical advisors to review your code for you and use the issue tracker to discuss features.

Simon's spot-on here as to why Google/Facebook/etc. would be a bad move. The first impulse of most projects is to pull in social, so being mindful of how a user is asked to approach your app is a great place to start.

Cole Stryker has written a couple neat books on the (often constructive) power of anonymous social networks — http://www.amazon.com/dp/1590209745 — although the chasm between Anonymous and a teen support network may be too far to bridge.

I'm quite interested in suicide prevention, having lost several friends to suicide over the years. I'd do it pro bono. If you're interested, let me know - my e-mail is in my profile.

Marketing/design background here. If you (krrishd) are assembling a posse, this subject is incredibly near to my heart and I would be happy to contribute my time/ability when you get to that stage. Email also in profile.

To everyone interested in helping- I would definitely love to get all the help possible from you guys, so I'll make this an open-source project. I'm figuring out th logistics of everything right now, I'll try to contact you guys with more details as soon as possible. Thanks guys, I'm really looking forward to this :)

Also willing to help. This is something that hits very close to home for me. I've done both front-end and back-end work.


I've created a github project here - http://github.com/krrishd/suicide-prevention

Would also be interested in lending a hand where I can (after being able to read up on the vision behind the app). Feel free to contact me with the project details once you've got set up.

Hi, I've created a github project here - http://github.com/krrishd/suicide-prevention

Hey krrishd, I also offer my help. It will be the most useful for front-end web design, or maybe some minor backend things.

I'd be also willing to help you with the backend pro bono if I think the app has an ability to make positive impact. Check out my profile for some past projects.

I would definitely love help! I'm still figuring out logistics, when I get to deciding on a team, I'll definitely contact you. Thanks!

Also would do it pro-bono if you need a hand with the backend. Email in profile.

Congrats man, well done!

This list of cognitive distortions and how to fix them might be relevant: http://www.apsu.edu/sites/apsu.edu/files/counseling/COGNITIV...

This was created by Dr. David Burns and is supported by research in cognitive therapy. The full information is available in his book "Feeling Good". The interactive medium could afford some interesting possibilities.

Another thing that I remember reading is that tracking your happiness level and sharing that information with others seems to improve mood. Somebody was experimenting with this on the web. Seems like a perfect fit for a social app.

I second the opinion that you should make sure that you pay attention to research. Some common sense approaches might be counter-productive. For example, the cliché: "suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem" can make suicide sound even better to the seriously depressed. Be suspicious of common sense here.

As someone who has read "Feeling Good" and is married to a therapist, I can not suggest this book enough. The general method is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy

The key idea is that our thoughts control how we feel, not the events or surroundings of our lives. A person who is considering suicide often has a very different view of events because of their thought process. The idea of CBT is to change the way you think and by doing so you are able to feel differently about the events in your life.

However, I would never suggest that someone simply start applying CBT on their own with out some guidance. I am very nervous about how you want to make this a social application. Depression can be a very personal and embarrassing disease for a person and even positive encouragement can cause more depression.

Lets say we have a kid named Stan. Stan is a very depressed kid who is considering suicide. He manages to let his friend Bobby know that he has been considering killing himself. Bobby is shocked as Stan is a very bright and successful kid. Bobby tells Stan that he 'can't believe that Stan would want to do such a thing' and that 'he has so much to live for.' Bobby thinks that he is helping Stan, but Stan views this very differently. Stan thinks, 'No one understands me, Bobby is just saying that to make me feel better.' While the temporary relief of telling someone was something that Stan really wanted to do, in the end it only ends up making him feel more depressed.

The reason behind this sort of thinking is because of the Cognitive Distortions. Stan's perception of reality is vastly different because of them. It is for this reason that I am concerned about how you make this a social application. In my opinion the best thing you can do for a person who is considering suicide is to get them to a trained professional.

I would recommend Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) over CBT. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavior_therapy As I understand it DBT is better at validation of emotions than CBT.

That is likely because CBT attempt to focus on your emotions, but rather on your thoughts that cause your emotion. I have not heard of DBT though honestly, and I am far from an expert on CBT, but will have to read more on both now.

I have had personal success with DBT practiced in a clinical setting. A lot of the skills taught are really great life skills that are applicable to everyone not just those with psychiatric conditions.

It seems DBT builds off of CBT.

One other thing, no matter what, this is your project.

All the advice you get here, much of it good, and all the advice you will get throughout the project (especially if you open source it on github which I highly recommend) is for you to assimilate and then build into your opinion.

Listen to experienced dev's telling you why and why not a particular course will work, listen to people here on the research and the unintuitive nature of suicide, but in the end this grant was given because you seemed to have an insight or a gleam in your eye.

Trust that gleam, and tell us lot to go hang, if you think you are being pushed into something that in your informed opinion is not the best for the app.

And remember, Its not the only suicide prevention work out there, so the weight of the world is not on your shoulders - your job is to do a good job and be proud of the work. Let the world decide if thats going to solve its problems or not.

Good luck and all the best

"....tell us lot to go hang"

Perhaps not the most appropriate choice of words

Suicide prevention /app/? You don't stop suicide with an app. You're 15 and you have a grant for a gimmick. I'm 22 and I'm unemployed. I'm already depressed but this makes me angry, too, so I just made an account to let you know that this disgusts me. Empty words. At least your resume looks better with this.

It isn't clear exactly how the app will work, but my guess is it will establish an online support group for depression and encourage communication within the group. Even if it only reaches a tiny audience it could have a major impact on the people who use it. The app itself doesn't directly prevent suicide, but it gives communication tools to a community that does. Sounds like a great idea.

Something like /r/SuicideWatch? You don't really need an app to access that community. Just a web browser and a reddit account will do.

I'm sorry that his makes you feel this way.

1. I am in no way experienced with suicide, I just thought this idea up for a contest, but it actually won, and I felt the obligation to at least try to make it a reality.

2. This app is not really aimed at people already dealing with severe stages of depression, many organizations and suicide hotlines are already doing that well. This is more towards people only starting to feel issues that could worsen to lead to suicide, catching the issue early on.

Again, sorry if that's how it seems, but I'm just trying to help out in any way that I could possibly.

>many organizations and suicide hotlines are already doing that well.

These organizations are for much more than that. The National Suicide Prevention Line is there for your "smaller" problems too. There are more, too. Best of all, these are trained professionals, not 15 year olds.

>I'm just trying to help out in any way that I could possibly

I'd strongly advise you message the mods in /r/SuicideWatch. They can advise you on what to do, they're great people. If you don't, you could easily end up doing more harm than good.

I find your reaction... odd? He's won a grant to develop a tool that has the potential to help out people with a real problem. Why should that disgust anyone?

Does he have any experience with suicides? Has he lost anyone or felt suicidal himself? People who have know how difficult it is.

The app was described as a "social network". As someone who has experience with suicide (both from my perspective and from losing people), I have to question what a difference that will make. How exactly does it work? If he can't explain, perhaps a mockup of the UI might answer a lot of questions.

Of course it has the potential to help someone. Everything has potential but how realistic is that? The chance that this will make a difference seems really low to me.

I hate to be the negative guy on HN but suicide is a serious matter and I can't see why anybody would give grants to 15 year olds to build 'apps' to 'prevent it'.

I expect it works like this a) run an awareness campaign about suicide prevention disguised as a competition among young people to get them talking about and thinking about suicide prevention. Probably do some education in there labelled as 'how to come up with good ideas for our competition', with increased interest due to a potential 'win money!!' hook. b) who knows, maybe you'd actually get some worthwhile ideas, or something useful could be created. Not really the point, more of a bonus if it happens. But the winners will continue to be aware of the problem, possibly become evangelists, and you can get some more publicity when they release their thing later = more awareness.

So, it's probably not realistic to assume this particular app will help. The chance that it will make an actual difference is probably pretty low. Is that reason enough to dismiss the idea? Or to dismiss "apps" entirely as a possible tool for helping suicidal people? I said this below, but unless suicide is an area where you have more potential to cause harm than to do good, it seems like a worthwhile direction to spend resources.

>Is that reason enough to dismiss the idea?

Usually, no. But we're not dealing with "will my photo sharing startup succeed?"

>unless suicide is an area where you have more potential to cause harm than to do good

It's extremely difficult to give good advice to a suicidal person. Almost everything can be interpreted as negative. Your dealing with someone who is in a dangerous mind set. Even telling someone "it'll get better" can make it worse. This is why I stressed the importance of experience.

Some information: http://www.reddit.com/r/SuicideWatch/comments/1cep2h/psa_wha...

>but unless suicide is an area where you have more potential to cause harm than to do good, it seems like a worthwhile direction to spend resources.

Um, yes, you have serious potential to cause serious harm.

Suggesting to anyone serious about suicide that an app will help is insulting. You have to be naive and unwilling to understand or a megalomaniac to think an app will help.

I have a painfully personal acquaintance with suicide. I agree that an app couldn't have done much for it after a certain point.

But what causes people to be suicidal in the first place? In my experience, feeling like they don't matter. Apps by themselves can't do anything about that feeling, yes.

But apps are used by people. And apps can help put you in touch with people who can change your life. Who can help you understand that you are important.

Apps can also put you in touch with yourself, and help you grasp your own context.

Perhaps this specific app will work, perhaps it won't, but writing off any and all apps seems a bit premature.

I'm definitely willing to be labeled naive. Would suggesting a call to a suicide hotline be as insulting? What if the app carries out similar functions as a hotline? Please, I'm not trying to troll, just trying to understand why the idea of this app is so repugnant.

Also, while this specific app may not be able to help, doesn't it seem at least possible that some app, some day might? It seems prematurely dismissive to write apps off as wholly ineffectual. Unless suicide is a case where you're likely to do more harm than good?

>Would suggesting a call to a suicide hotline be as insulting?

That depends a lot on context. In some cases, yes.

>What if the app carries out similar functions as a hotline?

Who would you talk to? A volunteer? What happens when 4chan gets their hands on this app?

>Unless suicide is a case where you're likely to do more harm than good

See: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6757098

As for displaying a hotline number, you can find that information on Google. Literally search "suicide" and the first thing listed is a phone number you can call for help. If the app is just a number of a suicide hotline, then it's a pretty pointless app.

What may be more useful is a collection of services and communities (ie. suicide hotlines by state/country, communities like /r/SuicideWatch, general information). However, that sounds a lot like a website and not an app.

you are probably smarter than us

This is a serious project. Please find a licensed psychologist to partner with as you develop and test your app and prepare it for release.

I can't second this suggestion strongly enough. The technology will be the easy part. Connecting with people who need help will be very difficult. I don't even want to think about how hard it will be to protect against the trolls.

OP: I would recommend starting by interviewing your guidance councillor at school and any psychologists, social workers, etc.. that you know or can be introduced to. At the end of every interview, ask the interviewee who else you should talk to. Ask for an introduction. Always thank these people for their time (an email is a must but including a handwritten note a month later will pay huge dividends). If someone really impresses you, ask if they would like to be on your board of advisors. Pack your board with the best people you can find and meet with them regularly.

Good luck!

Awesome! I know other folks here question whether your approach actually prevents suicide. Personally, I respect your gumption and initiative to carry this out.

I hope you get offers to work on the backend with you. If not, here are some ideas:

(1) Find a like-minded person at meetup groups. The Atlanta Ruby User Group, for example, has a contingent actively working on public good kind of apps, things more for non-profit work than for-profit work. While your local technical meetup group is a good place to start, there is nothing stopping you from emailing the ATLRUG mailing list and asking. There are other platform meetups you can try, like ones for Node.js, Erlang/Elixir, various Python groups, etc.

(2) Use the Tim Ferris method of calling up famous people. You never know. Being someone versed in JS, you could try Resig, or Katz, or the AngularJS core folks. You could also try one of the startup CEOs/CTOs you admire. I don't think someone's work should be judged on the novelty of being young, but it happens (people think, could I have pulled it off at your age?) Older folks who have amassed experience and power like teaching and mentoring young people, as it is not as threatening to one's power base as young competition. You might not necessarily get such a person to work directly with you on the code, but you're likely to get access to a network that you normally would not have access to.

(3) Scour the web for other similar competitions and contact the winners. Maybe you can trade.

Good luck!

I've lost people to suicide and I've felt suicidal myself so I'm very interested to know what the app does. What will it do to reduce suicides?

I too am 15 years old. I'm currently working on a secure chat alternative to things like kik, what's app and skype. I've been coding the backend in node.js and the frontend in jQuery.

I suggest you check out node.JS, it's easy to learn since you have a JS background and it should handle well with what you're doing.

Also if you're intrested, I'm willing to help out for free, you can contact me at: c1d@mypin.im.

The response to this post surprises me a bit. Suicide prevention is a great idea. But as described, it really isn't explained well enough to capture my imagination.

There's very little description of what it would do beyond that it's an app and it prevents suicide. And that it's a social network. That really isn't enough to describe the idea.

I can see the possibility of a social network site for depressed people.

Dunno. It's a big goal, but very hard, and I think it's extremely important to take into consideration the mentality of someone who is considering suicide.

Good luck.

My initial thought: I could imagine a Facebook or Twitter app that analyses posts of all your "friends"/"followed" to establish the mood of the post and to highlight a trend that may look depressive giving a person a suggestion that their acquaintance might be having problems. This may relate well to suicide prevention.

Getting people to sign up for a social network because they're depressed seems like an impossibility.

I don't think it's entirely impossible.

On Reddit, they have a somewhat popular depression forum which is rather depressing (a typical post is something like, "I managed to shower today" or "does anyone else feel life is meaningless?") but people seem to benefit.

A service that helps people who feel down cheer up could be quite useful if done right.

I agree. I honestly can't imagine what a successful version of this app would look like from the description.

A simple program available in the app store that lists local suicide prevention hotlines is the only thing reasonable I can come up with. This information is all available online, but it may be more convenient for some people if it's in the app store.

Maybe there could be an add on to text this information to a friend.

How can it be more convenient? If you Google "suicide" that information is front and center...

Google is obvious to you and me, but may not be to a teenager whose only link to the internet is through their smartphone.

Idea( you have ) -> Stakeholders -> Requirements -> Features -> Evaluate -> Repeat

Considering the fact that you already received a grant, I would imagine you have a few details of what you want to build, but you will find the real tangles in the details.

I would greatly advise that you dive deeply into the various requirements and untangle the details and drive clarity throughout the design, before you start writing a lot of code.

Once you feel comfortable that you won't run into any big surprises and you understand your general feature set you should prioritize these features, I like to do the most risky and difficult features first, and then get started. You will of course have a lot of ground work to lay, but that could be counted as a feature.

After you have your first shippable set of code done, should take between 2 weeks and 2 months, shouldn't be perfect. Get it in front of someone that's relevant. As it will be hard to find somebody suicidal that also wants to review an app, probably somebody at a crisis center or a counselor that helps people in this situation.

After a few demos you should find plenty of improvements and features you never thought of, as well as defects. Now it's time to add these into your priorities and start over.

Good Luck, I hope this goes well for you. Let me know if you would like any further advisement, I would be glad to take emails and what not. I have been developing software professionally for the past 3 years.

I can't believe some of the comments here. I admit I haven't read them all yet, but come on...

Background, I've been suicidal many times in my life, having spent >3 weeks in the psychiatric hospital. Been in the mental health system for YEARS. Been around many many many suicidal people in that time.

This seems so naive. You have a lot of legal issues here, and also social and ethical. You want to make sure you are cleared legally, you want to make sure you are not violating HIPPA. You want to make DAMN sure you are doing the right thing, and not encouraging the behavior you are trying to prevent. You are describing this as some kinda "social network" and there are studies that social networks can make you MORE lonely and depressed.



You want the help of a trained psychiatrist for god's sake.

You want to be damn sure you "suicide prevention" app doesn't get overwhelmed by trolls and well meaning people giving bad advice, and if it does, you aren't legally on the hook.

This is just way too big. This isn't some weekend project. This really really is serious business. Don't do it. It's way too risky.

Step 1: Get help. Start figuring out what you don't know.

An app like this, especially if it were wildly successful in attracting users, could do a lot of harm if the underlying idea isn't thought out well and based on good ideas. You're 15. You love your idea and the competition judges did too. Great! Are you or them experts on suicide prevention?

Fortunately, your goal isn't to make money or something similarly self-serving. You're trying to save lives. That opens up tremendous resources to you what would be denied to most trying to make their first app. Psychologists, doctors, professors, etc. will all be happy to help you get the idea right, free of charge, because it could save lives.

If you see a psychologist, ask them for their input and ask them for contacts. Go to your local university and knock on doors. Find people who teach or do research in the field and ask for their input. Make some phone-calls. Email professors at other universities.

I know your instinct is to immediately try to advance your idea towards a working app, but a great app based on a faulty idea is usually pretty useless and this one could actually be dangerous. Get help immediately.

liyanchang's suggestion is bang on. Even if you never touch on it again, if you actually force yourself (by working on an interesting project) to touch on the full stack of an app you will benefit from it for years.

So many of the little hobby projects I've worked on over the years (long since abandoned) have provided a fantastic base for something else. A website I managed when I was a teenager taught me all sorts of server admin skills that still pay off 5 years later. When you're 15 you have absolutely oodles of free time (it might not seem that way now, but it will when you're working full time!). Make use of it!

Seriously -- every project I had the opportunity to work on during my teen years has formed the basis for so much of my later "real" career as a developer. Each experience has provided me with invaluable skills.

Since you seem to have a good grasp of frontend, I would definitely checkout https://parse.com/products/data as a backend solution.

How about a native app for iOS & Android with a big red button that, if they click it and confirm, puts the user immediately on the phone with a suicide prevention counselor.

That's close to wha the idea is, except it kind of prevents suicide at a more early stage. But the idea can change, that sounds interesting as well...

Congratulations! This is an absolutely great opportunity for you to learn useful skills, make the world better and significantly improve your resume.

I think you should spend a grant on your education and skills related to the app. This is a sustainable approach given that the grant is not really large and you are in the exploratory phase of your project.

Do everything yourself while consulting with the community non-stop, lots of people will be eager to help you.

Btw, I consult startups on marketing and I think your story is straight techcrunch/mashable/thenextweb material, ready to inspire other young people to learn programming. If you need any help spreading your mission, this app or teen2geek, for the greater good, just drop me an note, I'll be eager to help you pro bono. My e-mail is in the profile.

As a developer who has struggled with depression, I really dig this.

I've got a lot of years doing backend work, and I'd be more than happy to help pro bono.

I personally would not get too hung up on the stack you use. Find something that will get you up and writing tests and building pages as quickly as possible.

Discussions about various stacks usually have to do with scaling and scaling usually is a problem after the prototype stage (which is the goal I'm guessing).

Up and coding.

I also agree that you should do the bulk of the work yourself. The knowledge you gain will be priceless, and in today's software development world, it is helpful for front-end guys to know what the backend guys do and vice-versa.

Certainly lean on people here for help and advice, but I wouldn't have someone do all the backend work for you.

Good luck to you!

My biggest piece of advice: Don't consider the money an investment in you App. Consider it a form of encouragement to keep you thinking and working in general.

Whoever gave you this money isn't expecting you to build a suicide prevention app directly. They are saying that they like your idea, they like you, and they want you to keep at it. It's a grant, not a loan so don't worry about treating it as a loan.

Use it to get some training you might want, use it to set up a business and learn about business, use it to buy a piece of hardware you might otherwise not be able to afford. Use it to further your chances of eventually being able to make a difference, don't put pressure on yourself to make the absolute most of it.

Lastly, put it on your resume.

I'm probably wrong about this, and I know very little psychology, but I am under the impression that suicidal people don't admit to having a problem. Also, they don't hope to find help, either coz they think or know it's out of reach, or don't know help is available. If this was not so, I would imagine they'd seek this help rather than take their lives, which is a sign of someone giving up hope. Now, installing an app for suicide prevention looks to me like an act by someone who HASN'T given up hope. And if you haven't given up hope, you are already walking away from the brink. And if you're already walking away from the brink, maybe you're not suicidal? My feeling here is that an app for reaching out or talking someone out of taking their life may not be the best approach to reaching such a person to make them pull back. Of course the journey to suicide is long and complex, and there must be many points at which an intervention is useful and where your app will play a part, but I just feel like there might be a disconnect between the people who should use your app and those who would use your app. Be that as it may, like I said, I'm not a psychologist, and most likely my assumptions are wrong. I imagine the literature on suicide being mentioned talks about this in detail and from a professional point of view. All the same, I wish you all the best in your project and hope it succeeds.

Try to do it yourself. Don't be afraid of "failure" because there is none here, you are not getting paid to realize something, people saw someone ambitious and willing to try so they "gave" you the money.

Now whatever happens next, it will only be valuable. You will only learn things from that point, outsourcing is not an option when you're willing to learn. Because this is an opportunity to learn, it is not an opportunity to succeed.

I'm not sure what exactly your idea is, but may I suggest you partner with experts in the field?

I'd recommend you ping Prof. Joshi at Stanford, who was involved with a suicide prevention program in Palo Alto. And if only to run your idea by him and solicit some feedback.

This is a video of him talking about suicide risk factors in teens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lIqp6odvp0

Good luck!

The steps that I'd take in your position:

1) Determine how much back-end I really need (or whether I need one at all). I'm going to assume your grant proposal contains use-cases (or user stories) that describe the interaction with the back-end.

2) Decide what framework(s) your front-end will be using and make a list of the back-ends that you believe would work with the front-end.

3) Define the interface between the front-end and back-end ... an ICD or API document will help you with both sides of the connection.

4) Find a mentor who can get you started with your chosen back-end technology as well as help you out when you get stuck.

I'd use this as a means to learn at least a little about back-end architecture. On the other hand, you could ignore the typical back-end development and go with something you know - e.g. CouchDB uses a RESTful API to store JSON documents, provides facilities for making views, lists (an HTML transformation of a view) and shows (an HTML transformation of a JSON document.

4) Find a mentor who can get you started on the chosen back-end, and help when you get stuck.

Lots of people have given you very specific advice about what frameworks to use, how to approach the problem, etc...

Take it all with a grain of salt. What I'd suggest to get started is create a public github project for it, put together some wireframes and sequence diagrams (publish them in the github project) so that people can see what it's meant to look like and how it's mean to work. Then just start coding.

Post the github project here on HN and ask for contributors. Keep a curated list of features, tasks and bugs in the github project and let people pick them up and help you build it.

Rule #1 though, don't let people get you down. Everyone has an opinion and we software people can be pretty harsh, especially when, frankly, we're just arguing our opinion rather than fact.

Rule #2, done is better than perfect. What's your Minimum Viable Product? Build that, maintain tunnel vision on completing that, then worry about everything else it could do.

A little tangential, but listening to this might help out with perspective:


And maybe reach out to other suicide prevention non profits?

On the development side: I'd go for firebase, frontender myself and the docs are pretty easy to follow. Since you know angular, you can use angularfire to easily get you started. If you have experience with yeoman you can try out this generator (https://github.com/dsimard/generator-angular-phonegap) which gives you an emulator to phonegap. Didn't try it myself, but seems interesting.

On the projectside: Cool that you would take your time and skills to work on a project like that. I had the sad experience of losing someone close through suicide, so... yeah. Thanks.

What is a "front-end developer"?

I can do the literal translation, and I can surmise that it means a person who builds and designs UIs, but I always thought that was a designer, not a developer.

Javascript is the only thing on what you've just listed that's Turing complete, so look into Node.js, in addition to all the other Buzz Words you see in the rest of the comments.

I also think you should come at this with a dark sense of humor. You're not going to save many lives if you don't get attention, and you're not going to get anyone's attention if it's Just Another Web App. Tasteful gallows humor is a good way to grab the audience you're looking for.

A front end developer is someone that builds the interface. Designers are becoming programmers more and more nowadays, but it used to be that the designer drew out an interface and the developer built it.

Here's a good article about it, as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Front_and_back_ends

I'm not sure this is a good thing for code quality and thus app quality.

You may find https://www.firebase.com/ or http://www.meteor.com/ allow you to do it all on the frontend

I was thinking about meteor, I'm just not sure how complex it would be to implement on a mobile app.

I've been using Meteor for a couple of years now, and although it does a lot of magic, I recommend using it only for very simple projects.

For this application, meteor may be suitable, but keep in mind that you'll need to build a lot of your supporting infrastructure until Meteor 1.0 comes out.

Reasons not to use Meteor:

It is currently very difficult to accurately profile memory issues.

Simple html mixups can take half an hour to debug due to the fact that they'll only show up in production, and in minimized/uglified form.

MongoDB costs 'money' to scale properly (sharding across multiple machines with lots of memory (if your database grows).

Edit: This is not a simple project, so maybe meteor is asking for trouble since it's not very mature yet.

Check the mailing list for this. There wasn't a large amount of discussion about mobile options when I last checked, but one solution seems to be what you've already listed above: Phonegap/Cordova.


It didn't seem like there's a "perfect" solution for this yet (in any realm--it's all still evolving).

I have to +1 the parse.com suggestion. Their API has an Angular wrapper if you really know it well. Or, if you haven't hit the 'Angular Wall' (meaning you haven't built something of real-world complexity with it), you can use their JS SDK, which is a backbone fork.

I suggest you open source all of it, and keep HN up to date on progress. List out what the product should do, and how you want to design your models. You'll get some solid feedback.

Web iterates fast, so I'd use web rather than jumping right into native. You'll be able to show your code to coders, and show your product to social workers and those who support at-risk people.

Would you say the same about Firebase?

I suggested Parse because I'm personally using it right now, so I know it well. That's obviously a bias, so take it as such. Firebase looks very similar. If you are going to lean on the greater community, Parse seems slightly better, because of the fact its a fork of Backbone-more people should understand pretty easily what's up with models.

Also, Parse is owned by Facebook and has pretty solid, simple login and integration with social sites.

I've tinkered with Firebase and looks quite comprehensive as well. From what I can tell there isn't much difference. They have a nice little wrapper for Angular too.

You'd have to be more specific about how the app is supposed to work. For instance maybe it can be accomplished with the Facebook javascript api, implementing it on top of Facebook. Maybe not.

Anyway, I wish you good luck.

Its kind of a social network structure, bu simpler than things like FB, twitter, etc. it doesn't rely on any API, and would be really easy for anyone who knows what they're doing on the backend.

My favorite anti-suicide advice is 'Never commit suicide when hungover'. It sounds subversive but I think it gets the message across by first not discounting that the other person may have valid and important problems, and then emphasizing that all states of mind are subject to improvement.

You could (carefully) curate a list of this sort of advice from people who have actually felt suicidal at one point or another and pop up a random message on demand in the app. Carefully, as most cheerful advice does not sound so good when you are depressed.

It sounds like the OP already knows what he wants to build, he is more looking for advice on the how.

You should use http://ionicframework.com when it is ready, for storage use ngStorage https://github.com/gsklee/ngStorage, and a guide for starting with angular and phonegap/cordova is here http://devgirl.org/2013/06/10/quick-start-guide-phonegap-and...

hi Krish, please let me know if I can contribute in any way! I'm probably not as experienced as most people here in terms of technical skills, but speaking from personal experience, a very good friend of mine nearly took his own life few months back. It was a painful experience, I myself had a few days of major depression during the incident, so I was able to understand how hard it is for people who suffer from long-term depression (and even then I'm sure my struggles weren't nearly as difficult as what my friend was going through at that time). I don't hope to see anyone else losing their own life, or losing the ones they love to depression/suicide again. Imo, suicide is a pretty sensitive topic. Instead of rushing to the technical details and how to build the app, I think it's much more important to carefully study and really understand the people who have had suicide thoughts, what are their struggles, what caused the thought, and how to help them resolve that thought. And it's important to analyze what are the potential issues/risks of the app's design so that it doesn't end up unintentionally bringing more harm than help. And last but not least, I'm more familiar with the back-end, but willing to do (and learn!) more front-end as well. I hope your project can succeed, good luck!

What I would recommend next is recognizing that suicide is a complicated and controversial issue, and there are differing attitudes and approaches towards it. Your app, like it or not, will be opinionated. Have informed opinions. For example, read this:


If you disagree, fine, but have an informed opinion.

Dude. make a mobile web app. Hook up with a clinical psychologist. Also focus on a target age / market. Get some data going. Hit me up i can see what to do about a clinical psychologist hook up in NYC. There are several scales psychologist use to narrow down a specific condition and you can incorporate those scales into the app via logic tree / branching based on the input a user submits to the Q&A. you can hit me on twitter @adamqureshi

This is awesome. I think the main thing I did when I was 15 was sleep....

I'm actually working on an application (www.happsee.com) for tracking happiness. Somewhat similar, but not exactly. It's already had some huge benefits for me as far as understanding my own emotions.

If you want to chat more about making an app (mine is for android), machine learning (predicting stuff from other stuff), or building a backend, let me know. Email is in my profile.

Do research, read the literature.

A company local to me worked[1] on a similar idea[2] for Mind, a mental health charity in the UK. Might be some inspiration there. As for the technical side, you'll only learn by doing, and other posters have provided some fine ideas.

[1] http://www.yoomee.com/elefriends

[2] http://elefriends.org.uk/

I would suggest you to learn how to build the entire thing yourself. This is a great opportunity to get your hands dirty and understand the nitty-gritty of web development. Very useful in the long run!

Having said that, I am not sure about the time constraints you are working with. If the timeline is tight and you have never done this before, it's better to outsource it as opposed to building a sub-standard app yourself.

Another offer of support - drop me a line if you want a hand with not just technical security, but Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) aspects to such a project.

I suspect a project like this has more complex Governance, Risk and Compliance issues than most. Where possible, work with an existing charity working in this area, as they should already have practices in place to manage this.

Good Luck OP. It's fantastic to see that you're getting many offers of help. I really look forward to seeing what is created.

Some people are suggesting research. I'd be interested in suitable papers and organisations.

One good place is the University of Oxford Centre for Suicide Research:


This is great. First off, congrats.

As others have mentioned, due to the sensitive nature of a project along these lines, I would strongly recommend finding a mentor in the psychology realm. You'll want to make sure that you carefully consider some of the functionality aspects of the app to make sure things won't be unnecessarily/accidentally harmful.

Hello, I would try to write the entire app myself. You will learn so much from it. That will benifit you forever. If you get stuck, just put another ask at hacker news. If you just help one person who is depressed, its worth ten times the effort.I have been there. Thanks for taking part in the competition and good luck to you.

You should try using a backend-as-a-service if you aren't comfortable with databases/scaling/etc and would like to get the app out. Parse (parse.com) would probably work great for you. It wouldn't be a bad idea to get them to sponsor your application / company (assuming you create a non-profit).

Best of luck.

I think you should reach out to those who are experts in the field and find out what they think would work, then build something that does that.

As an example my partner volunteers with a suicide prevention hotline that also has a chat client, I'm sure they'd love something mobile that works with their chat system, etc.

Don't know what your idea is.. but a thought or plugin is what about an anonymous place for people to vent or answer the question.. Why I wish I were dead: I have 6 toes on my left foot. others can respond anonymously..about that... some sort of peer group online/ facilitated instant support group.

I'm sorry, but this will be overrun by trolls and give out unhelpful/bad advice. Plus, there are already forums for this.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 There's trained people to give support on these very issues. There's other numbers you can call as well. Check them out.

Build it. There are a lot of tutorials out there to quickly build stuff in any technology you choose. Reaching out through this question - "What do I do?" Is what you should advice suicidal people to do. There is always help if you ask for it.

You could use this app for inspiration or research: http://www.siliconrepublic.com/start-ups/item/34863-tech-sta...

Get in touch with someone from here: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

They do a lot of work in this area and will have the best advice on what things you can do to help.

You'll go far, kid! Glad you found someone here who can help you with the back-end.

I think a more detailed description of things app ought to do would be very helpful.

I happen to know the President of the American Association of Suicidology. Email me and I'll put you in touch. I also mod a Twitter chat on Suicide Prevention and Social Media. Would love to support you.


I'm still sorting out how exactly I'm going to structure this and implement it, so as soon as I figure that out, I'll shoot you an email. Thanks :)

Im not sure if it would be helpful for your exact vision, but there are several open source social network platforms like www.elgg.org which could give you a jumpstart on the backend to get underway.

Way to go! Can I send you any books via Amazon to help you out?

Figure out who are the users, research what people are already doing in this space (Samaritans) and test your ideas before building anything with paper prototypes.

Why not learn Node.js? You learned almost everything else Javascript. There's got to be some decent ORM for it. How much time do you have to do this?

I think you should learn how to use a version control system in an efficient way, in github you have days with >20 commits of css in a row...

This is a major undertaking. IMO, you will most likely end up reaching the lower-hanging fruit of depression rather than suicide. Good luck.

I happen to know the President of the American Association of Suicidology. Email me and I'll put you in touch. Acf@docforeman.com

Ignore the crazy motherfuckers in this thread, jesus. Like I said on reddit, use phonegap, angular and maybe a simple ruby on rails backend if you need something on the server. That'll be the easiest way to build the app, and you'll develop great marketable skills.

You're just started, do it yourself.

Develop a suicide prevention app.

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