App Aims to Detect Teenagers at Risk of Suicide

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An app aims to analyse the writing patterns of teenagers in order to predict possible depression and suicide risks.

John Pestian, a professor of Biomedical Informatics and Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has studied the language and speech patterns of those suffering from depression. During his research, Pestian began to notice specific speech patterns that acted as identifiers for people at risk of suicide and believes that his research could help school counselors and medical professionals recognise the signs of depression in children and teenagers.

According to Pestian’s most recent work, the words people use can indicate certain thing’s about thought processes. Even small details such as pauses, tone, and pitch can be identifiers of certain emotional markers.

Pestian’s work is now being used in conjunction with modern technology to create an app that can automatically analyse and note these indicators. Spreading Activation Mobile (SAM) is the official name of the app which records young adults conversations in counselling sessions and uses Pestian’s research to determine if a user is at risk of suicide or depression.

Pestian is quick to point out that SAM is merely a tool to be used by psychologists, not a solution to the larger problem of depression. “These are things you just don’t pick up in conversation,” says Pestian referring to the indicators the app is programmed to note. “The technology is not going to stop the suicide, the technology can only say: We have an issue over here, then we have to intervene and get a path to get to care. If it’s just a machine it is useless.”

“The purpose of SAM is to find the kids earlier, because suicide is an avoidable death; it’s preventable death. If we just get them early and if we know what to look for; if the parents know what to do,” Pestian says. “It’s miserable on the family. It hurts just to call.”

Behavioural therapist at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, Ben Crotte, agrees that Pestian’s work could provide massive benefits to psychiatrists and is using SAM for the second year with his clients. “It’s extremely easy to use. It’s super simple, it’s really a minimal thing we are incorporating into our work,” said Crotte.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart Tech covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan_ or email him at


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