New app working to predict suicidal behaviors among teens

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FARGO, N.D. (KVLY) -- Technology is at work again to prevent teen suicide. An app that is still in the developing stages is hoping to predict suicidal behavior. Teen suicide has become tragically common.

"Suicide has many complex causes and one of those contributing factors is bullying and social isolation. They kind of go hand in hand," said North Dakota Suicide Prevention Director, Alison Traynor.

Bullying itself is a complex social issue and social media is making it worse.

"Ever since the internet became something that we use on a daily basis and the communication systems that we have with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and all the different ways people can communicate, it's been around for awhile. Unfortunately, people use those mediums to inappropriately communicate about others or about things going on in the world," said Dr. Jeff Schatz, superintendent of Fargo Public Schools in North Dakota.

An app, still in the development process, aims to prevent suicides. It's called the 'Spreading Activation Mobile' app, also known as SAM. This app uses an algorithm based on the user's language, emotional state and social media footprint. The accumulated data is used to predict the likelihood of someone on the verge of committing suicide. This isn't the first time technology has been turned to with hopes of preventing suicide. Fargo and West Fargo school districts use a mode of communication allowing students to express themselves in a confidential manner.

"We have something called a 'text a tip' program within our schools that is very well advertised throughout our schools," said Schatz.

The Center for Disease Control reports that suicide rates have doubled among teen girls and increased more than 30 percent among teen boys. While a variety of apps are already offered dedicated to improving mental health, it's believed that having predictability capabilities will be more beneficial to the user’s overall well-being.