New app to reduce suicides, alert psychiatrists to concerning social media posts

Feb. 9, 2018

A current research project in the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Syracuse University could help reduce the number of suicides that occur each year by analyzing social media data generated by depressed patients and alerting their caregivers in time to intervene quickly.

Graduate students Pranika Jain and Siddhartha Roy Nandi, under the supervision of Professor Chilukuri Mohan, are developing an Android app designed to be installed on psychiatrists’ smartphones. If a patient agrees, the app monitors their social media posts and can trigger an alert if it detects significant risk indicators in the language used in posts or in the patient’s posting patterns over time.

If the primary mental healthcare-giver is unavailable, the alert would be routed to another responsible care-giver, possibly through a healthcare organization, with steps taken to protect patient data privacy.

In the pilot phase, the team is working with psychiatrists to refine the algorithm’s ability to detect concerning posts and reduce potential false alerts. The alert generation process will be sensitive to an individual patient’s social media posting patterns, rather than a one-size-fits-all. Doctors will provide feedback and rank potentially alarming posts on a scale of 1 to 10. Those rankings will be used to fine-tune the patient-specific algorithm parameters.

The project illustrates a unique intersection of technology and complex human emotions. By comparing a new post to the past history of a patient’s postings, the app has a context for detecting anomalies—potentially troubling posts that can generate an alert.

Syracuse University has the full article

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