Technology in the Fight to Prevent Death by Suicide

Dec 2014

Texas suicide lawyerA charity called Samaritans released an app at the end of October that was designed to help prevent death by suicide. The app included a specially designed algorithm that was intended to identify key words and phrases that might suggest someone was having thoughts of suicide. People who signed up for the app would be notified if someone that they were following was posting troubling phrases on Twitter that could suggest a risk of suicide.

The app has since been pulled from the market because of concerns about privacy and worries that it might make things worse for those who are experiencing mental health issues. While this particular app may not have been the best approach to take to helping to prevent suicide, it does raise questions about how technology could be used to help people who are having a hard time.

Identifying suicidal risk factors can be a difficult thing to do without some basic training. I recommend visiting the QPR Institute online. QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer) Gatekeeper Training for Suicide is a brief educational program designed to teach “gatekeepers”–those who are strategically positioned to recognize and refer someone at risk of suicide (e.g., parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, caseworkers, police officers)–the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to respond by following three steps:

Trained mental health professionals and medical care providers should be in the best position to provide appropriate assistance. Unfortunately, a suicide attorney knows that this does not always work and medical professionals sometimes fail to do their job. “At times they simply don’t know what they don’t know because their professional training failed them” says Skip Simpson. Professional organizations like the American Association of Suicidology are busy trying to fix the poor clinician training in the United States. Another hard charging organization, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), is trying to get medical schools and graduate programs to focus on properly training their students in suicide prevention. The SPRC is moving mountains in suicide prevention.

QPR training will get folks at suicide risk to the proper resource; SPRC is attempting to make sure those resources know what they are doing and then do it properly. If clinicians fail to apply the proper standard of care, then they face a review by Skip Simpson and his colleagues across the United States.

Technological Tools in the Fight to Prevent Death by Suicide

The Samaritan app analyzed people’s Twitter accounts to find key phrases that could potentially suggest a person was considering death by suicide. Some of the phrases that the app looked for included things like “help me,” “need someone to talk to,” “hate myself,” “depressed,” and “tired of being alone.”

When these phrases were identified, followers of the person who was making the tweets would be alerted via email. Only people who had signed up for the service would get the email alerts. The app also monitored only Tweets that were publicly available and sent them only to individuals who were already following the tweeting person.

There were concerns, however, that stalkers and bullies could potentially sign up for the service. This would give them the opportunity to use the information to increase their abusive behavior at a time when their victims were especially vulnerable. Another possible issue is that the app could result in false positives, causing needless concern and making people less likely to reach out when they are feeling down.

The app has been removed from the market in response to the concerns. However, there are other online tools that are still used to help in the fight against suicide. Good Therapy, for example, has provided a list of the top 10 websites on the Internet that can help people who are having thoughts of suicide or who want to help others who are struggling. Lifeline Chat also makes it possible for people to reach out and talk to someone online if they are depressed or despairing and having thoughts of suicide.

So, while technology might continue to assist in the fight, nothing can replace human contact, genuine concern, and the help of medical professionals trained to deal with victims struggling with thoughts of suicide. Throughout the holidays, we can each do our part to reach out and help those struggling to cope through what for many is the most difficult time of the year.

A suicide attorney at the Law Offices of Skip Simpson can help. Call (214) 618-8222 or visit to schedule a free case consultation.

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