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Computer algorithm identifies suicidal patients :

December 9, 2016

New computer technology can help identify someone as suicidal based on verbal and nonverbal cues, researchers found.

“These computational approaches provide novel opportunities to apply technological innovations in suicide care and prevention, and it surely is needed,” lead author John Pestian, Ph.D., said in a news release. “When you look around health care facilities, you see tremendous support from technology, but not so much for those who care for mental illness.”

Researchers recruited adolescents and adults from emergency departments and inpatient and outpatient centers to participate in a prospective clinical trial, and 371 completed the study. Participants were suicidal, nonsuicidal with a mental illness or controls.

The subjects filled out the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale, Young Mania Rating Scale and Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. They also took part in a recorded interview, answering open-ended questions about whether they had hope, fear, secrets, anger or emotional pain.

A computer algorithm then analyzed linguistics and acoustics from the interview and was able to categorize someone as suicidal with 93% accuracy. The computer also could correctly characterize someone as suicidal, mentally ill but not suicidal or neither 85% of the time.

Researchers noted that the mentally ill and control patients tended to laugh more during interviews, sigh less, and express less anger, less emotional pain and more hope than the suicidal patients.

“Overall, the results show that machine learning algorithms can be trained to automatically identify the suicidal subjects in a group of suicidal, mentally ill, and control subjects,” they wrote. “Moreover, the inclusion of acoustic characteristics is most helpful when classifying between suicidal and mentally ill subjects.”

In addition to the health care setting, such technology could be useful in schools, youth clubs and juvenile justice centers.

“These computational approaches may provide novel opportunities for large-scale innovations in suicidal care,” authors wrote.

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