Preventing Suicides by Monitoring Veterans on Social Media

Social media can tell us a lot about our lives, but can it save our lives as well? If we can use social media to prevent suicide, one of the leading cause of deaths in the US, will it be worth violating one’s own privacy wall?

There are plenty of efforts in targeting suicide prevention through social media alerts, but that’s a tricky balance. Facebook has a reporting system that’s available for every user, though it’s hard to tell if it is effective:

IMPORTANT: If you’ve encountered a direct threat of suicide on Facebook, please contact law enforcement or a suicide hotline immediately. If the person you’re worried about is a member of the US military community, be sure to mention this so they can provide this person with custom support.

Additionally, there’s the Durkheim Project that is specifically studying veterans and military members in order to prevent suicides. The project and its findings can be applied to everyone, but currently uses an opt-in program for veterans and military personnel, who especially at-risk for depression.

We developed linguistics-driven prediction models to estimate the risk of suicide. These models were generated from unstructured clinical notes taken from a national sample of U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) medical records….

Our data suggests that computerized text analytic can be applied to unstructured medical records to estimate the risk of suicide. The resulting system could allow clinicians to potentially screen seemingly healthy patients at the primary care level, and to continuously evaluate the suicide risk among psychiatric patients.

The team of researchers are artificial intelligence experts and psychiatrists from Darthmouth Engineering Medical School. The project doesn’t have the capability to intervene – only a real human can do that, like a psychiatrist. The project ‘s next aim is to assign a trusted family member or clinician to oversee automated interventions.

What do you think? Will users be willing to submit their personal social media data for analysis and suicide prevention? Most suicides happen with plenty of warnings – signals and calls for help. Shouldn’t social media be used to offer help?