Happy with a 20% chance of sadness

Matt Kaplan in Nature:

In the winter of 1994, a young man in his early twenties named Tim was a patient in a London psychiatric hospital. Despite a happy and energetic demeanour, Tim had bipolar disorder and had recently attempted suicide. During his stay, he became close with a visiting US undergraduate psychology student called Matt. The two quickly bonded over their love of early-nineties hip-hop and, just before being discharged, Tim surprised his friend with a portrait that he had painted of him. Matt was deeply touched. But after returning to the United States with portrait in hand, he learned that Tim had ended his life by jumping off a bridge. Matthew Nock now studies the psychology of self-harm at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Even though more than two decades have passed since his time with Tim, the portrait still hangs in his office as a constant reminder of the need to develop a way to predict when people are likely to try and kill themselves. There are plenty of known risk factors for suicide — heavy alcohol use, depression and being male among them — but none serve as tell-tale signs of imminent suicidal thoughts. Nock thinks that he is getting close to solving that.

Since January 2016, he has been using wristbands and a phone application to study the behaviour of consenting patients who are at risk of suicide, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. And he has been running a similar trial at the nearby Franciscan Children’s Hospital this year. So far, he says, although his results have not yet been published, the technology seems able to predict a day in advance, and with reasonable accuracy, when participants will report thinking of killing themselves.

More here.

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