Suicide Prevention Technology Has Come a Long Way — And It's About Time

suicide prevention technology

After numerous suicides were streamed via Facebook Live, and subsequent criticism ensued, the social network is finally doing something about it.

Today Facebook announced that they are rolling out their new AI tech, which will try to detect posts and live-stream videos that convey suicidal thoughts or intentions. The technology will look for keywords in both posts and comments as well as patterns of suicidal or depressive language.

The VP of Product Management Guy Rosen released the following statement:

“Over the last month, we’ve worked with first responders on over 100 wellness checks based on reports we received via our proactive detection efforts. This is in addition to reports we received from people in the Facebook community. We also use pattern recognition to help accelerate the most concerning reports. We’ve found these accelerated reports— that we have signaled require immediate attention—are escalated to local authorities twice as quickly as other reports. We are committed to continuing to invest in pattern recognition technology to better serve our community.”

They plan to employ thousands of employees to review reports of suicidal content. Once such a post is detected, FB will suggest contacting a helpline, tips, and resources for getting help.

Honestly, it’s the least Facebook can do. And I do mean the least.

Suicide prevention technology has long been in the works before Facebook decided to experiment this year. One of the most impressive accomplishments to date is the app Spreading Activation Mobile (SAM). SAM connects young people with counselors and then records their conversations to detect suicidal language. The algorithm is constantly learning what words are an indication that someone is in trouble and can analyze everything from the patient’s words to their social media presence and beyond. Once the language is spotted, the app will alert a therapist ASAP to get that patient immediate help.

Another algorithm in the works was tested on Twitter and used language, word count, speech patterns, and activity levels to spot depression. The algorithm’s creator Chris Danforth said,

“A machine will find 100 other pieces of data that your phone has access to that you wouldn’t be able to measure as a psychiatrist or general practitioner who sees someone for a half-hour a few times a year.”

Such algorithms now have more than a 90% accuracy rate of spotting those at risk of suicide.

Of course, studies are still being conducted to test out the effectiveness of this technology, but it’s still pretty amazing what has been accomplished so far. For hundreds of years, mental health help consisted of only medication and therapy. And now we have so many more resources available to us and all at our fingertips. Just in your phone alone, you can access meditation apps, therapy apps, mood trackers, and more.

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.