Suicide prevention takes a forward step

In a move to curb the alarmingly high rate of youth depression and suicide, social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace and Twitter could be scanned for signs of "at risk" behaviour.

Researchers at New Zealand's Victoria University claim to have devised a program that is capable of scanning posts within social networking sites to identify keywords that could indicate that a poster is at risk of depression, self-harm, suicide or even harming others.

"Our technology picks up words and phrases such as 'depressed', or 'I don't want to live anymore' or 'I want to kill somebody'", Dr Tiong-Thye Goh said. To filter out those users who are using such terms in a jokingly sense or being overly dramatic, the program can rank phrases and keywords according to their frequency of use. Dr Goh said, "...if certain keywords are used a lot it is likely that the particular person may be emotionally depressed".

Dr Goh believes that social networking sites have, in recent years, become a significant avenue in which young people openly express their feelings and concerns with others. Therefore, a program with this technology is highly valuable.

In time, the project will be expanded to implement technology that allows a poster deemed to be at risk to be contacted. Dr Goh gave one possible example as a short message that asks, "How are you?" with three different response options being, "Good", "A bit down", or "Bad - need help". The option of needing help could link to a website with resources and contact numbers to assist the poster.

The program is still being developed.

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Speaking as someone who does have depression, and for years seriously wanted to and indeed tried to kill myself in high school (don't worry, I'm being treated now) I can safely say that had Facebook existed when I was in high school, I would have been careful to leave no signs that could assist a human reader much less a computer. I didn't want intervention, I wanted to die.

This, sad to say, won't work. Can this software read between the lines of a status of "feels miserable" and understand that it means suicidal thoughts? I don't think so.

I thought this article might actually be interesting but that sounds like a first year computer science project with very little science. "Bad - I need help"? God, their software must be f'n amazing to pick that up.

Too many people on the planet as it is. Just let people know that help is available for those who are depressed. If they still want to kill themselves, I say let nature take its course.

"Hey guys, I really need a pony but my parents won't let me get me one unless I get 10,000 people to type type "I'm really depressed" or "I want to kill somebody" as your facebook status message and my parents might get me a Pony!

/end facebook message

and that's how you kill a Suicide Prevention program.

For one second I thought the title means they're gonna implement the multi-touch interface Tom Cruise used in Miniority Report...