BYU researchers create algorithm to predict suicidal thoughts in adolescents

Nov 4, 2021, 8:12 PM | Updated: Nov 5, 2021, 6:21 am

SALT LAKE CITY — If counselors could predict which kids are most likely to commit suicide, they could save lives. Researchers from Brigham Young University, Johns Hopkins and Harvard have come up with an algorithm that predicts suicidal thoughts and behavior among adolescents. Their findings could lead to more effective measures to prevent suicide.

The team of computer science professors and public health professors was able to pretty accurately predict which adolescents will exhibit suicidal thoughts or behavior. They’re doing the research because it’s important to them and the community.

“I’ve had close friends that have had suicides in their family. For me, it’s kind of personal that way,” said BYU computer science professor Quinn Snell. “Our lab had been looking at suicidality and suicide ideation for quite a little while.”

He and his team analyzed state data from nearly 180,000 Utah students who took a student health and risk prevention survey from 2011 to 2017. They applied various algorithms and found a machine-learning model that predicts suicidal thoughts and behavior among adolescents with 91% accuracy.

Just as important, they discovered risk factors that are leading predictors of suicidal thoughts and behavior.

“The number one predictor of that was bullying,” Snell said. “Cyberbullying, and bullying at school and how safe you feel at school. But, right behind that was how safe you feel at home.”

Being threatened or harassed online, or being bullied at school put kids at higher risk for suicidal thoughts or behavior. But, so did exposure to serious arguments and yelling at home.

“This is something that sometimes as parents and school counselors we can’t see,” Snell said.

The researchers believe this is critical knowledge in our state because suicide is the leading cause of death among Utah adolescents, with an average of 660 suicide deaths a year.

“Maybe in communities, maybe in families there are certain things we might want to think a little bit more about. Maybe additional resources or additional energies might need to go to some of those areas,” said Carl Hanson, a BYU professor of public health.

But, not far behind those top three risk factors, they discovered adolescents who regularly eat together with their families had less risk.

“This could be something where you could target a program saying, eat a meal together, spend time together, but don’t spend time arguing together,” Snell said.

They believe the implications for our communities should lead to the development of better programs for suicide prevention. Programs could focus on helping adolescents develop stronger connections with their peers and their families.

“Those are huge,” Hanson said. “So, if communities are going to wrap their head around what to do, that could be a place to start.”

This research could have a big impact in school counseling, but also in clinical counseling as our community steps up to prevent suicide.

“I think our research speaks to the need of additional energy in certain areas of risk,” Hanson said.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

Police respond to Spanish Fork High School after receiving reports of an active shooter, which were...
Josh Ellis

Police: Hoax targets several Utah schools with fake shooting threats

First responders were sent to multiple Utah high schools Wednesday due to calls reporting an active shooter, but police have confirmed none of the threats were credible and no students were in danger.
11 hours ago
(Salt Lake City Police Department)...
Madison Swenson

Gas leak closes roads in Salt Lake City; authorities investigating

A gas leak has some roads closed in Salt Lake City Wednesday morning.
11 hours ago
A sign indicating the Seven Canyons Fountain's water has been turned off stands in front of the fou...
Carter Williams

Seven Canyons Fountain at Liberty Park to become a ‘dry’ art feature

The seven creeks that flow through the Salt Lake Valley are thriving as a result of a record-setting winter within the snowpack basin that fuels all seven of the creeks.
11 hours ago
Gwyneth Paltrow enters the courtroom for her trial, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Park City, Utah. Pa...
Sam Metz

Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski collision trial continues with defense

Gwyneth Paltrow’s attorneys are continuing to mount their defense about her 2016 ski collision with a 76-year-old retired optometrist who sued her years later.
11 hours ago
emergency lights...
Cassidy Wixom

2 inmates hospitalized after brawl breaks out at Utah State Prison

Two inmates are hospitalized after a fight broke out at the Utah State Correctional Facility in Salt Lake City Tuesday night.
11 hours ago
Kevin Linford (Facebook)...
Andrew Adams

Additional sex charges filed against Utah businessman; prosecutors fear more victims possible

A man accused of sexually abusing multiple women at a party in Davis County last summer now faces new charges in Salt Lake County. 
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Stack of old laptops with dark background...
PC Laptops

Old Laptop Upgrades You Need to Try Before Throwing it Away

Get the most out of your investment. Try these old laptop upgrades before throwing it out to keep it running fast and efficient.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Close up of an offset printing machine during production...
Les Olson IT

Top 7 Reasons to Add a Production Printer to Your Business

Learn about the different digital production printers and how they can help your company save time and money.
vintage photo of lighting showroom featuring chandeliers, lamps, wall lights and mirrors...
Lighting Design

History of Lighting Design | Over 25 Years of Providing Utah With the Latest Trends and Styles

Read about the history of Lighting Design, a family-owned and operated business that paved the way for the lighting industry in Utah.
Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
BYU researchers create algorithm to predict suicidal thoughts in adolescents