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Algorithms Might Fight Suicide Better Than Clinicians

By finding useful patterns among dozens or hundreds of risk factors, machine learning algorithms could be better at predicting suicides than humans.
By finding useful patterns among dozens or hundreds of risk factors, machine learning algorithms could be better at predicting suicides than humans.
03_10_Suicide_01 Source: Richard Wareham Fotografie/Getty

Each year in the United States, more than 40,000 people die by suicide, and from 1999 to 2014, the suicide rate increased 24 percent. You might think that after generations of theories and data, we would be close to understanding how to prevent self-harm, or at least predict it. But a new study concludes that the science of suicide prediction is dismal, and the established warning signs about as accurate as tea leaves.

There is, however, some hope. New research shows that machine-learning algorithms can dramatically improve our predictive abilities on suicides. In a new survey in the February issue of Psychological Bulletin, researchers looked at 365 studies from the past 50 years that included 3,428 different measurements of risk factors, such as genes, mental illness and abuse. After a meta-analysis, or a synthesis of the results in these published studies, they found that no single risk factor had

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