Calm Harm App
A December 2019 Facebook post about a self-harm prevention app called “Calm Harm” continued to circulate as of January 2022.
In total, ten Tumblr screenshots were attached to the post describing the “Calm Harm” app. The original Tumblr post was not accessible in January 2022, but versions of it shared by other Tumblr accounts remained accessible:
Several of the screenshots appeared in the Tumblr post. Text at the top of the page read:
Listen up. There is literally an app that can help you avoid self harm and I don’t know why we aren’t talking about it.
Calm Harm can be tailored to your needs and will provide strategies to help you get past those crucial moments of wanting to harm.
Self harming is a behavior or impulse experienced by people, often in times or crisis or as part of a broader condition like anxiety or depression. CrisisTextLine.org defined self harm as:
For some people, when depression and anxiety lead to a tornado of emotions, they turn to self-harm looking for a release. Self-harm and self-injury are any forms of hurting oneself on purpose. Usually, when people self-harm, they do not do so as a suicide attempt. Rather, they self-harm as a way to release painful emotions.
Google Trends data for the seven-day period ending January 31 2022 indicated that there was still sustained search interest in the Calm Harm app. However, the app was not new even as of late 2019; The Verge profiled it in a 2018 article, describing some of Calm Harm’s basic functionality:
Calm Harm isn’t a new app; it launched in 2016 before being rebranded in July 2017. Its Google Play and App Store reviews are filled with people thanking its creators, or sharing their own success stories. But the app has found new popularity among Tumblr users, who are spreading the word to better help others …
Calm Harm offers a few simple solutions in the form of distraction techniques. The “Breathe” category, for example, will instruct you to exhale and inhale for a minute at at time, with the option to continue for as long as users need to. “Distract” gives you challenges to choose from, like counting backwards in sevens from 100, or thinking up a name for every letter of the alphabet. “The urge to self-harm is like a wave,” the app explains. “It feels the most powerful when you start wanting to do it.” It likens fighting off these urges like surfing on a wave: once you’ve ridden it out, the urge will fade.
Calm Harm is a real app, and searches for it returned links to the app on Apple’s App Store and Google Play. Both app store pages maintained a similar description of the app and its origins and limitations (most importantly, that it was not created to “replace” mental health treatment):
Calm Harm provides tasks to help you resist or manage the urge to self-harm. If you want to you can set a password so that it’s completely private. You can also personalise it if you wish, by choosing the background colour theme and deciding on whether you would like some company using a variety of friendly characters.
The app then provides you with four categories of tasks to help you [get through] the urge [to engage in self harm]. ‘Distract’ helps in learning self-control; ‘Comfort’ helps you care rather than harm; ‘Express Yourself’ gets those feelings out in a different way and ‘Release’ provides safe alternatives to self-injury. There is also a ‘Breathe’ category to help calm and get back in control.
You can do the activities for either blocks of five minutes or fifteen minutes with a countdown for each minute. You will be able to track your progress and notice change*.
Calm Harm has been developed for teenage mental health charity stem4 by Dr Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist using the basic principles of an evidence based treatment called Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT).
Note that if you forget both your password and memorable word, these cannot be reset as we do not create user accounts, and you will need to re-install the app, losing any previous data.
*Please note the app is an aid in treatment but does not replace it.
A Google preview for Calm Harm’s website (calmharm.co.uk) stated that the app was featured on the “NHS Apps Library,” referring to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). We were unable to locate that specific claim on the app’s website, but its FAQ included the following question and answer:
HOW DOES STEM4 ENSURE THAT THE CALM HARM APP IS CLINICALLY SAFE TO USE?
stem4 has put a number of measures in place to ensure that the Calm Harm app is clinically safe to use.
The Calm Harm app has been developed by a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and validated by the group it is for. The Calm Harm app complies with the clinical safety standard DCB0129. Developed by the NHS, this standard is designed to help manufacturers of health IT software evidence the clinical safety of their products.
stem4 has a Clinical Risk Management Plan. A Clinical Safety Review with clinical professionals was undertaken for the Calm Harm app and a Clinical Safety Case Report and Hazard Log created. The clinical risk is monitored and laid out in the Hazard Log. A flow chart of hazard mitigation and response is available which outlines how issues will be addressed together with target response times.
Regional NHS pages listed Calm Harm as a resource [PDF]. Another FAQ section covering the app’s safety and efficacy indicated that a clinical study was still pending as of January 2022:
The model of the Calm Harm app was developed according to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy principles by an experienced consultant clinical psychologist and a group of 8 young patients who self-harmed provided feedback and tasks. This group then was expanded to 14 young people aged between 15-17. At baseline the severity and frequency of self-harm behaviour was noted and the Moods and Feelings Questionnaire and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire completed. They were given the Calm Harm app to use in-between weekly treatment meetings with a clinical psychologist. Familiarisation (did they want to use the app) and safety (triggers, crashes) was assessed at two weeks and measures were repeated at 4 weeks. Statistically significant results on depression were noted post use. Free answers indicated 84% reduction in self-harm in between appointments. Acceptability was high at 99% and safety was also high 99%. The most popular category was comfort and the most common reason for self-harm was ‘I was sad’.
A clinical study is pending – we are currently having discussions with a possible research partner.
A viral Facebook post (based on Tumblr screenshots) recommended the Calm Harm app for individuals struggling with the impulse to self harm. Although the original Tumblr post was deleted, versions of it were reblogged and remained live. The app was real, and accurately described. An important caveat emphasized on app store listings was that the app was intended to “aid in treatment” but that it was not intended to replace it. We rated the claim Decontextualized rather than fully True specifically to emphasize that key detail.