Algorithm Can Predict Suicidal Thoughts, Behaviour in Adolescents With 91% Accuracy

Researchers have created an algorithm that can predict suicidal thoughts and behaviour among adolescents with 91% accuracy.

The researchers outline their machine learning approach in PLOS ONE, where they also detail risk factors that are leading predictors of suicidal ideation and behavior among adolescents: online harassment and bullying.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States,” said Michael Barnes, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. “It’s critical we have a better understanding of the risk factors -- and the protective factors -- associated with this heartbreaking issue.”

The study results show researchers can predict with high accuracy which adolescents will exhibit suicidal thoughts or suicidal behaviour based on experiences they face.

The researchers analysed data from 179,384 junior high and high school students, along with those who participated in the Student Health and Risk Prevention survey from 2011 to 2017. The dataset includes responses to 300+ survey questions and 8000+ bits of demographic information, resulting in a total of 1.2 billion data points that were processed. Researchers then applied various algorithms to the data and found a machine-learning model that accurately predicted which adolescents went on to have suicidal thoughts and behaviours based on the data provided.

The data showed that females were more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and behaviour (17.7%) than males (10.8%), and that those adolescents without a father in the home were 72.6% more likely to have suicidal ideation than those that did.

Most importantly, the algorithm discovered which risk factors were the leading predictors of suicidal thoughts and behaviour, and these included being threatened or harassed through digital media; being picked on or bullied by a student at school; and exposure/involvement in serious arguments and yelling at home.

“This analysis finds the most important root causes of suicidal thoughts and behaviour in adolescents and creates risk profiles that give us a clearer picture of adolescents that are at risk,” said coauthor Carl Hanson, Brigham Young University. “If you want to wrap your head around what you can do about it, these profiles are one good place to start.”

The researchers were not surprised to see some of the top risk factors -- bullying and harassment -- but were a bit taken to see the heavy influence from family factors.

“Clearly the results speak to the need for prevention and schools may be the best place to start by helping to mitigate bullying and online harassment,” said Hanson. “For communities, we need programming that can help support and strengthen the family.”

Reference: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0258535

SOURCE: Brigham Young University