Measuring Suicide Risk through an App

The Toronto Star recently wrote about some interesting new technological developments for assessing suicide risk.

Researchers from the Indiana School of Medicine recently conducted a study on new strategies for predicting suicide risk. The researchers have developed an app that asks about wellness and life activities. This app was used in combination with a blood test, and scientists working on the study were able to note biomarker patterns in participants' blood that may be related to increased suicidal thoughts. Study participants were all males with a history of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression or other mental illness and the researchers note that this means they are not able to generalize the results to the general population, but there seems to be interesting implications for the future of assessing for and treating people with suicidal thoughts.

When reading about this, I was initially pleased about the potential of a concrete method to measure suicidal thoughts, something that is at times difficult to discuss and assess. Through our occupational therapy work, we know that sometimes, having a conversation about suicide with someone who is considering it can be the reason they don't follow through with their actions. The conversation, reflections on current feelings and support gained from personal conversation and connection can make a big difference in someone's wellbeing. Would the use of this app and a simple blood test take away some of this personal interaction? Would that be good or bad for someone's treatment? Might the use of an app reduce open conversations about suicide? 

Think about how this might be used in a workplace. Let's reflect on the Germanwings tragedy from a few months ago when a pilot who wanted to end his life crashed a plane with hundreds of people on it.  What if something like this app was in use at his workplace? Could this have been prevented?

Is using something like this app an invasion of privacy if you want your thoughts and feelings to be kept private? What if the blood test exposes false positives? Clearly there are many gaps to be filled before something like this could have wide-spread use, but it is an interesting thought about the future of healthcare and technology.

Do you have thoughts on any of the questions above? How might this app relate to monitoring workplace mental health? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!