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Michelle Young – Oct 10, 2012
In the Huffington Post in 2010, the following article appeared on technology and whether a new technology could help. I don’t think we can look at this without considering the points addressed here either, not to mention the additional links provided:
Suicide Prevention: Can a New Technology Help?
Posted: 05/18/10 09:55 AM ET
By Wray Herbert
Suicide is both disturbing and perplexing to survivors, in part
because it is so unpredictable. People who are intent on killing
themselves often conceal their thoughts or outright deny them, so family
and friends are left puzzling over warning signs they might have
Even experienced clinical judgment often misses the mark. As a
result, suicide experts have long hoped and searched for a clear
behavioral marker of suicide risk. Now they may have found one. Harvard
University scientists are reporting that a tool widely used for probing
unconscious thoughts might be used to spot suicidal intent–even if the suicidal mind is in denial–offering new hope for timely intervention to keep people alive.
Psychological scientists Matthew Nock and Mahzarin Banaji (working
with colleagues at both Harvard and nearby Massachusetts General
Hospital) decided to adapt a decade-old test called the Implicit
Association Test, or IAT, to plumb for warning signs of suicide.
Specifically, he wanted to see if people who are suicidal might have
stronger implicit associations between themselves and
death–associations that might point toward self-destructive intentions.
To find out, he tested 157 people seeking treatment in a psychiatric
emergency room. The patients were all emotionally distressed, but only
some were in the hospital because of attempted suicide. The scientists
wanted to see if the IAT could distinguish those who had attempted
suicide from those who had not.
The IAT is a reaction time test. During their hospital stay, often
while sitting in bed, the patients very rapidly classified words on a
computer screen, words like: lifeless, thrive, myself, deceased, they,
theirs, survive, breathing. And so forth. The idea is to see how rapidly
patients connect identity-related words to either life or death words.
And the findings were unambiguous. As reported in the April issue of the journal Psychological Science, patients who had attempted suicide prior to admission had much stronger unconscious associations between self and death.
But the study didn’t end there. Nock followed all the patients for
six months to see how they fared, and he found that the patients with a
powerful self-death association in the hospital had a six-fold increase
in later suicide attempts. Six-fold is a dramatic difference, and what’s
more, the unconscious associations were a much better suicide predictor
than depression, previous suicide attempts, or the intuition of the attending clinician.
What about the patients’ own predictions? Fourteen of the emergency
patients attempted suicide within six months of leaving the hospital.
Their self-evaluations were an indicator of their future risk,
but an imperfect indicator. The IAT results were a better prognosticator
even than the patients’ self-evaluations. This suggests that
unconscious thoughts might be a useful detector and predictor of
intentions that patients are reluctant to discuss–or intentions of
which they themselves are unaware.
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