Suicide is the the second leading cause of death for Canadian young adults and the third leading cause for those between the ages of 30 and 44.
It can be the dire result of a number of complex factors – mental illness, addiction, poor health, isolation, job loss, and more – making encompassing solutions difficult to come by.
“For decades, researchers across the globe have been investigating whether there is more that we can do to reduce suicide deaths,” says British TV personality Dr. Xand van Tulleken. “It is a hugely complex task, but there are glimmers of hope.”
Maybe the simplest solution, is proving to be most effective: by installing nets under bridges, fewer people fall fatal to suicides.
Experts say if desperate people can’t take their lives by jumping from a structure, it’s unlikely they’ll find an alternative method. The net can save tons of lives, even if they’re not being directly used.
“Studies have shown that when nets or barriers have been installed on [bridges], they have dramatically reduced the number of deaths by suicide — not only in that location but in the surrounding area as a whole,” van Tulleken says.
A.I. and machine learning
With the rise of A.I. and machine learning, we may be able to predict who’s at risk of suicide, and providing support before things escalate.
Unfortunately, no single factor, or small group of factors, can predict who will attempt or die from suicide “[any] better than a coin flip,” says Dr. Joe Franklin of Florida State University.
Related: How to Get Help for Your Depression
The rapidly progressing machine learning stands the best chance at this in the future thanks to its infinite amount of data it processes in seconds; Franklin’s research team uses Americans’ health records and machine learning algorithms to analyze up to 800 factors at a time, creating a prediction model with strong success.
“We’re able to predict both non-fatal suicide attempts and suicide death with about 90 per cent accuracy, a few years before it happens,” Franklin says.
Ask patients if they have suicidal thoughts
Another solution on the simple side, which has reduced suicides by 80 per cent for patients served by one Michigan health-care provider, is asking people directly if they have suicidal thoughts.
The Henry Ford Health System’s “zero suicides” initiative is straightforward: doctors ask every patient that comes in, regardless of what health issue they visited the clinic for, if they have had suicidal thoughts.
“Our suicide rate decreased by 80 per cent, and we even had some years where it was zero,” says Dr. Cathrine Frank, one of the program’s founders. “If we change the way we think about health care, we can prevent suicides.”
Photo Credit: Sergey Edentod/Shutterstock.com; Aipon/Shutterstock.com