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How world is leveraging technology for Suicide Prevention

Every year, on September 10, organizations and communities from across the globe unite to raise awareness and draw attention to the importance of mental health.

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This year, the theme for World Suicide Prevention Day is ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide.’

Psychiatric disorders are strong predictors of higher mortality risk and account for a significant number of years lost to premature mortality across most populations. The increased risk of mortality is due to the increased likelihood of suicide for which the Global Burden of Disease reports to be the 13th leading cause of death.

Although the presence of a psychiatric disorder is a major risk factor for suicidal behavior, it isn’t the only risk factor. Studies have shown that suicidal behavior can come about through an individual’s genetic disposition, the impact of stressful life events, or psychological factors such as feeling hopelessness or having high emotional reactivity.

For most psychiatric disorders there are evidence-based treatments available that can prevent or reduce the risk of suicide. However, suicide rates have remained unchanged and this is in part by the lack of understanding of how the complex interplay between mental illness, its comorbidities, and other psychosocial and biological factors influence suicidal behavior and suicide.

To suicide or not to commit suicide. That is the mental dilemma that science tries to decipher through Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, sensor technology, apps for smartphones, and other new technologies. In the dark suicide risk zone, these new technological tools look for the keys to predict suicide. Are they ready to use? Can clinicians rely on them? Studies in this field underline its enormous potential but also the need to investigate much more to validate them, particularly to determine which are the relevant data to be processed by those systems. Without significant data, no reliable prediction will ever be possible.

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Suicides— How do we work together to prevent them

Present measures to assess the risk of suicide are subjective and can involve a mental state examination by relevant healthcare professionals. However, suicidal behavior can be a highly fluid state and external factors such as an acute life event can escalate the risk of suicidal behavior at any given moment.

To better address suicide prevention, many researchers, innovators, and next-gen technologists are attempting to develop an array of different digital technologies to assist in predicting and/or preventing suicide.

Digital technologies are able to collect and analyze large amounts of information including population and patient data which can then provide a great predictive potential of an individual’s suicide risk. The aim is to better predict specific risks across different populations.

Digital Medicine & Tele Consultations.

To predict the risk of suicide, digital medicine is an innovative approach that aims to collect and utilize clinical data to objectively quantify and assess specific risk factors. Tele Consultations with the experts would need to be more seamless and be able to objectively quantify an individual’s present and future risk of suicidal behavior.

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Automated cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a means to deliver therapy when a human therapist is not present. This type of automated CBT may involve a text message-based system or an automated telephone program.

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These types of services can also be used to make daily reports on an individual’s mood as well as a means to catalog suicidal behavior with specific risks.

Smartphone applications to reduce depression

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There are many smartphone apps at present that offer a predictive platform for determining an individual’s mental health status.

However, the majority of these apps are just checklists with some actually offering harmful advice that could worsen a person’s mental status.

Researchers have also created a suicide prediction system that combines data from mood-focused smartphone apps to predict suicidality.

Although this technology is still in its infancy, the future could still hold a smartphone application that is a platform for delivering innovative healthcare technology in the mental health field.

Wearable Sensors to detect our emotions

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By attaching sensors to the body, real-time data can be collected, digitized, and communicated to cloud-based computing systems.

Using a pre-determined algorithm and comparing against baseline clinical data, an individual’s mental state could be examined at any given moment.

The algorithm would then determine the suicide risk and report these real-time mental health changes to the user, psychiatrist, and their family members.

Facebook AI to analyze the suicidal tendencies in their users

Taking a significant step towards preventing suicide, Facebook yesterday launched new “proactive detection” based on artificial intelligence technology that will scan all posts for patterns of suicidal thoughts, and when necessary send mental health resources to the user at risk or their friends, or contact local first-responders.

Further, Facebook also will use AI to prioritize particularly risky or urgent user reports so they’re more quickly addressed by moderators, and tools to instantly surface local language resources and first-responder contact info. The tech giant will also set up a dedicated team of more moderators to suicide prevention, training them to deal with the cases 24/7, and now has 80 local partners which will provide resources to at-risk users and their networks.

Will a new generation of connected devices help us detect and prevent suicide? It may seem like science fiction to some. Today’s multitude of wireless devices may help us finally improve the bleak statistics and subjective clinical approaches we’ve utilized thus far in suicide prevention. Yet we must immerse ourselves in the population to see the nuances of suicidality. There has been an increase in research that focuses on predicting and understanding suicide using new technologies, yet there remains a considerable need for caution, given the severity of any potential oversight or error. Many of these preliminary results are positive and give us hope that these initiatives may end up being an important part of our suicide prevention armamentarium.

We Janaspandana Software Solutions take a pledge to work towards building products & technology solutions that can bolster the goal of preventing suicides.

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