SPEAK suicide prevention app offers confidential, immediate help for north Alabama community

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - There's an app available now and there's nothing else like it in our community or state for that matter. It's a resource for anyone and designed for a very important purpose - to save lives. It's part of the ongoing SPEAK Initiative, a joint effort by the Huntsville Hospital Foundation and Huntsville Hospital to increase awareness about suicide in north Alabama. WHNT NEWS 19 is Taking Action to bring attention to this very important subject.

"This is the first app of its kind in Alabama and we're super proud about that," says Stephanie Kennedy-Mell. "We hope that it is just the jump off point for the rest of the state."

Kennedy-Mell is a member of a small group from the Leadership Huntsville/Madison County Class 30 that created the SPEAK app. Here is a list of all of the group members:

  • Terrence Clay, AMRDEC
  • Felicia Cook, Venturi, Inc.
  • Sue Esslinger, Huntsville Hospital Health System
  • Alan Jenkins, Intersouth Properties, Inc.
  • John Jones, Madison City Schools
  • Stephanie Kennedy-Mell, Church Street Wine Shoppe
  • Alan Mann, Madison County 23rd Judicial Circuit

SPEAK stands for Suicide, Prevention, Empowerment, Awareness and Knowledge. The SPEAK North Alabama app is for anyone who is contemplating suicide or anyone that wants to help someone at risk in a responsible way. It outlines warning signs, who to call and guides you on what to say and what not to say to a suicidal person. After Leadership brought them together, they chose to address the issue of suicide.

"I'm an educator and therefore, I have experienced losing students over the course of my career," says Jones.

Jones and Kennedy-Mell say every person in their group had experience with suicide in their lives.

"Whether it was with them or their family, friends or neighbors and we just thought this is the one," explains Kennedy-Mell.

They went to work, researching a long term and all-inclusive solution. That's how they came up with the SPEAK North Alabama suicide prevention app.

"Technology is everywhere," says Jones. "From the elementary school student to the senior citizen. We felt like we could get the app out there and we had a good product."

They even engaged Bob Jones and James Clemens High School students in a graphic design competition to create the look of the app.

"Not only is this unique to the state of Alabama, but the skin of the app and graphics were actually designed by your own local students right here in Madison County," says Kennedy-Mell.

Jones described the group's immediate goals. "To try to reach as many as people as quickly as we could and to have something that was lasting," says Jones.

The group also wanted to create a solution that was easily accessible.

"When you look around today at a restaurant, everyone is on their phones and everybody of all ages," explains Kennedy-Mell. "We thought what is something that somebody has in their hand if they need that resource immediately."

In the app, you can check for warning signs. A risk level is assigned to each one. Then, it gives you specific actions to take. It can help you gauge whether or not you need to seek help for yourself or guide you on ways to help someone else who is contemplating harm or suicide. Watch the video below for a demonstration of how the app works:

"It's a dialogue also that's there for you," says Jones. "So you don't necessarily have to worry about what to say, how to say it and it even tells you things that you should not say so that you can hopefully lessen the threat."

Now, with a subject that's often taboo and tough to tackle, help is only a few taps away.

"I love the fact that it's right there and it's quick," describes Kennedy-Mell. "It's immediate. Every single number is local and truly beneficial for you being an individual in Huntsville/Madison County. So, it's very much your community."

The SPEAK North Alabama suicide prevention app is free for Apple and Android devices. Originally designed with students and educators in mind, it extends well beyond that to adults, veterans and the LGBTQ community. Right now, the first priority is getting the word out so people know help is available. However, the group's work is just beginning.

"We hope to continue to develop the app even further through the Jason Flatt Act," explains Jones. "We hope to some day soon roll all of that into the app, so that an educator can have a code and password and go into the app and have all of the teaching and lecture information they need."

Their theory is the more information you have, the more likely you are to be able to step up and help save someone at risk.

Find the SPEAK North Alabama suicide prevention app for download.

Watch our Facebook Live interview and get helpful tips on ways to bring up the topic with someone you're concerned about, even children:

WHNT News 19 and iHeartMedia are the media partners for this project, sponsored by the Huntsville Hospital Foundation. We are Taking Action to make sure people, especially children, in our community get the resources and help they need. We'll be bringing you special reports and are committed to doing our part to end the stigma associated with suicide.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-273-8255 if you need to speak to someone.  You can also access the Lifeline Crisis Chat any time.