App developers hope to use technology to prevent suicides, depression
With teenage suicide and depression rates on the rise, researchers are hoping to help prevent it by using the technology believed to be causing it in the first place.
"Technology should be a bridge to people, not a replacement," clinical psychiatrist Dr. Carl Mumpower said.
According to government data, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34, with teen suicide seeing a dramatic increase from 2007-15.
"An adolescent's brain is more vulnerable to technology,” Mumpower said. “Whatever comes in tends to stick a little more strongly."
Studies have also linked heavy smartphone use with worsening teen mental health.
"Love doesn't seem to travel well on the internet,” Mumpower said. “Other things, like malice, anger and meanness, seem to slip through there a little better."
Researchers are hoping to change that by testing experimental apps that use artificial intelligence to detect specific behaviors and predict depression episodes or potential self-harm.
"It’s kind of like modern technological medicine,” Mumpower said.
Using modern technology to prevent crisis is something one local nonprofit is already trying to implement.
"We're working with youth to educate them around the unintended consequences of social media," said Our VOICE executive director, Angelica Wind.
Normally, the group deals with people facing sexual assault and abuse, but Wind said those issues can go hand-in-hand with depression and suicide.
"We had a teenager who reached out to us and was pressured to send an intimate picture of herself to a boy she liked," Wind said.
When that picture got spread around, things took a turn.
"The young girl attempted to commit suicide because of depression," Wind said.
And while there seems to be a way to use smart phones and social media positively, "The problem with technology is that you need a human being turning it into action," Mumpower said.
"It’s really about creating that authentic channel of communication," Wind said.
The apps are still being developed, but the plan would be to send the information directly to parents, or even first responders, to help address the issue as fast as possible.