Role of Technology in Preventing Suicide

Technology is speedingly advancing – so much so that it has solutions for most of our problems and answers for most of our questions. According to World Health Organization, Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. There are indications that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. This is a global problem – and can happen throughout our lifespan. In the world of digitization and technology, it is obvious that we have technological solutions created with the intent to prevent suicide. Technology continues to advance and to provide the field of suicide prevention with new tools.

Let’s talk about the role of technology in preventing suicide – 

1. Machine Learning

A second new technology application to be mentioned is the use of Machine Learning (ML), a subfield of artificial intelligence. ML is understood as the study and application of algorithms that can enhance knowledge or performance with experience. ML can learn from data, identify patterns within data, and provide meaningful information with minimal human intervention (Linthicum et al., 2019).

In the science of suicide prevention, this technology has been generally used with three aims:

  1. Improve prediction accuracy of suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  2. Identify relevant risk factors and the interaction between those factors
  3. Uncover potential subgroups within the data, specifying their profiles according to the information available (Burke et al., 2019).

Bernecker and colleagues (2019) investigated whether the application of ML could help to solve this issue through a multistage data analytic approach. The researchers examined this in a representative sample of American Army soldiers who denied having ever thought about suicide in a survey. They followed-up the soldiers through administrative records for 45 months to gather information of administratively-recorded suicide attempts. The results indicated that 70% of survey participants denied having ever thought about suicide. Administrative data identified 30% of this 70% who accounted for 81.2% of subsequent administratively-recorded suicide attempts. Approximately 10% of this high-risk subgroup accounted for around 45% of all suicide attempts in the full sample. The authors suggest this approach could be taken to pinpoint soldiers at high risk of suicidal behaviours, to provide them with assessments and targeted preventive interventions.

2. The role of Facebook 

Facebook recently launched a platform for reporting posts from users who may be in suicidal crisis.

You can flag a post as troubling, after which a dedicated team at Facebook will review the post and reach out to the individual. As the person who reported the post, you’re also given suggestions on how to best help a person in need or receive support for the emotional distress of encountering a friend or loved one who is suicidal. The process of flagging a post is simple, taking only a few taps or clicks. It’s so simple, actually, there’s no excuse for not using it when it’s warranted:

  • You start by flagging a post by clicking or tapping on the arrow in the top-right corner of the post.
  • Select “I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook.”
  • Select “It’s hurtful, threatening or suicidal.”
  • Select “I think they might hurt themselves.”

Read through the “What You Can Do” screen, which offers advice on how you can help a friend in need. At the bottom of that screen is the option to request Facebook look at the post. Alternatively, you can send a message to the friend, or to a mutual friend in an effort to help the person.

3. Online Therapy 

Online therapy is the delivery of mental health counseling via the Internet. People also know it as e-therapy, distance therapy, Internet therapy and web therapy. Many licensed therapists are providing online therapy services at affordable prices (even for free) from services such as Talkspace, BetterHep, etc. These services work via text, voice call or video call as per the client’s preference

In a nutshell, we are advancing but we are also dealing with problems that can not be solved with simple answers. Sometimes, there are no answers. But with the help of technology and professional skills, we can advance in the field of suicide prevention. 

Suicide Hotline Numbers – 
Patan Hospital Helpline for Suicide Prevention: 9813476123
Transcultural Psychosocial Organization-Nepal Crisis Hotline: 16600102005
TUTH Suicide Hotline: 9840021600