Monday, March 30, 2015

Suicide Prevention: The EQ Phone

I have an idea for a phone app to help reduce the incidence of teen suicide. I don’t need to tell anyone in Palo Alto, California what a blessing that would be.

The idea is based on three premises:

1. Changes in behavior that indicate deteriorating emotional health are known.

2. They are measurable with a phone’s hardware and software.

3. Kids love their phones, and an app of this kind would be welcomed by teens as long as privacy is assured.

Apple recently introduced ResearchKit and apps to monitor diabetes, Parkinson’s and other diseases. The Parkinson's app, for instance, detects tremors, gait irregularities and changes in voice. For emotional health, couldn’t we make an app that tracked indicators of deterriorating mental health? 

Signs of emotional trouble would be things like: little physical activity (accelerometer); staying home all the time (geo location); social media posts that have words and phrases correlated with despondency; social isolation, as evidenced by a marked reduction in texts and emails. No doubt there are many more that creative programming could capture.

Of course, this would require kids to put the app on their phone, but my impression is that most kids want help, they just don't know how to ask for it. They like their phones. They trust them like friends. The app could give feedback like, "Are you okay?” There are many behavior changes that indicate problems, and I'll bet a phone could monitor many of them. Using the cloud for analytical power, of course.

Privacy would be an issue. To get kids to trust the app, and maybe take its advice, the app couldn’t be ratting them out. Maybe some pre-agreed to 911 type message could work in dire circumstance, though.

I'm posting this because it's beyond my technical skills. Perhaps someone like Google or Apple or Facebook will take it on. Or just some gang of bright young programmers looking to make a difference. One precious life at a time.

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