Tag Archives: suicidal thoughts

AI, Suicide & Mental Health Initiatives

Image result for mri of the brain

As regular visitors to my site will know, I am passionate about the subject of mental health, especially when it comes to better understanding it and exploring ways to combat/solve/help/address (not sure of the best verb here) it.

I suppose one could argue that suicide is the most extreme – and troubling – form of mental health problems/issues/dilemmas (again, a semantics question). As someone I met years ago once stated ever-so bluntly: “If you think you know what rock bottom is, think again. Rock bottom is death.”

Writing for @futurism, Dom Galeon posted a piece titled “Machine Learning Is Aiding in the Fight Against Mental Illness” that is equal measure “morning call” (as they say in Korean) and equal measure bastion of hope.

Per the article:

“[A] team of researchers from several institutions including Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard University developed a machine learning algorithm trained to understand neural representations of suicidal behavior, and it works with a regular functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).”

The evidence can be seen in these images:

Image result for mri of the brain, suicidal thoughts

So, why, you might ask, is it critical to rely more heavily on AI for identifying suicidal tendencies? Because of this:

“At present, the best way to anticipate suicidal behavior is to directly ask a person if he’s ever thought about it. However, that’s not entirely accurate, as studies have shown that almost 80 percent of people who committed suicide denied having had suicidal tendencies during their last appointment with a mental health professional. This new algorithm can help address this issue.”

Even science has its limitations, though. As Dr. Marcel Just from Carnegie Mellon puts it,

“It would be nice to see if we could possibly do this using EEG, if we could assess the thought alterations with EEG. It would be enormously cheaper. More widely used.”

But, Dr. Just adds,

“If somebody didn’t want others to know what they are thinking, they can certainly block that method. They can not cooperate. I don’t think we have a way to get at people’s thoughts against their will.”

Thus, it’s still up to us as friends, family members, colleagues, loved ones, and humane humanoids to reach out in the oldest way possible: by talking; by listening; and by empathizing with, not judging, others in their time of need.

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Having Fun Does Not Include Making Fun of Others

Image result for the noonday demon

Sanity and mental illness lie on a spectrum, and most people occasionally cross over from one side to the other. It’s the proximity of mental illness rather than its obscurity that makes it so scary. But it should be scary in a “fix the broken care system” way or in a “figure out the brain’s biology” way, and not in a “scream for laughs” kind of way.

In a very poignant piece on mental health published recently in The New York Times, Andrew Solomon (@Andrew_Solomon) brings the lighthearted rhetoric of the current political malaise and common misperception about “crazy people” to the forefront in a way that is as engaging as it is educational.

Titled “Mental Health Is Not a Horror Show,” Solomon is not just the acclaimed author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, but is also a  psychiatric patient and a professor of clinical psychology, so he knows of what he speaks. As he writes early in his piece:

I became severely, clinically depressed for the first time in 1994. I was unable to speak, unable to get out of bed, unable to function in the world, and I thought of suicide constantly. I was afraid all the time but didn’t know what I was afraid of; I was numb to my own emotions and stripped of vitality.

You can read the article for yourself, but I think Mr. Solomon does a brilliant job of tying in the current social climate with an issue many people have only recently started waking up to with any real empathy. I’ll let the author himself close this out:

Our nation is in a moment when prejudice runs riot. In this election season, assertions of strength have often overtaken moral righteousness in the public imagination; success has been posited as incompatible with empathy. That rejection of empathy is an authentic poison, pressing some people to understand themselves as less human than others, a danger associated with a proliferation of suicides. It’s hard to think well of yourself in a world that sees you as a threat.

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