In commemoration of Global Suicide Prevention Month and Global Mental Health Day, the White House Offices of Science and Technology Policy and Public Engagement, in collaboration with Joining Forces, are bringing together clinicians, researchers, data scientists, tool developers, advocates, and policy makers to share their knowledge, experience, and skills in an effort to identify new opportunities for strengthening mental health awareness and suicide prevention. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 800,000 deaths by suicide each year – more than 41,000 of them in the United States. These rates have not substantially changed over the last 30 years despite many efforts to improve suicide prevention, outreach, and engagement. Along with those needless losses of life are family members and friends who are left with regret, guilt, and sadness. This event will take people out of their professional silos, bring fresh eyes and new perspectives to the problem, and forge new partnerships to develop innovative approaches to suicide prevention.
Data Scientists & Technologists: We Need You!
Deciphering why loved ones commit suicide is a complex topic without easy answers, yet data and data analysis tools may help shed new light on patterns and subtleties never before detected. To do this, however, we need data scientists—people trained in big-data analytics, statistical analysis, text mining, pattern recognition, data integration, and information management. We also need technology innovators and entrepreneurs—those working on next-generation technologies, tools, and new ways of thinking that may be applied to suicide prevention.
Data science and emerging technologies, coupled with interdisciplinary collaborations and social media, offer new hope. For example, data scientists and clinicians working together can objectively evaluate the efficacy of suicide prevention programs and efforts, offering evidence-based insights into what interventions are most effective. Data scientists can also analyze diverse government datasets—datasets on data.gov, the home of the U.S. government’s open data—to yield novel understanding of suicide patterns. Coupling these government datasets and resources with information from social media can lead to effective tools for hospitals, suicide hotlines/chats, and real-time interventions.
Suicide is difficult to ask about even when you know something is wrong. For the person who has thoughts about suicide, it can be hard to reach out for help even when you know you need it. Embarrassment, hopelessness, and feeling alone are a few of the many obstacles to seeking care. It is up to us to find new ways to reach out to those in need and make it easier for them to seek help when they need it.
Data Science for Suicide Prevention: Join us!
If you are a data scientist, analyst, tech innovator, or entrepreneur interested in sharing ideas and resources for suicide prevention, we want to hear from you! Please send a brief note about your ideas and resources to firstname.lastname@example.org. At this event, stakeholders in suicide prevention will focus on three topic areas: data-driven suicide prevention or what the data tell us, key signs and symptoms of suicide risk, and leveraging technology and community participation to prevent suicide. The hope is that the richness of diversity of thought, experience, and training will inspire new partnerships, better tools, and novel approaches that make it easier for those in need and their family members to seek the help that can make the difference in their lives.
Jo Handelsman is Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy