One of the most promising - and most terrifying - areas of medical research these days is technology designed to try to guess your mental health and predict what you'll do next.
Proponents of such tools say that they'll help doctors get to individuals in need faster and prevent tragedies like suicide, which claims the lives of more than 40,000 Americans each year, while others fear that such developments will lead to the nightmarish future of Minority Report.
Scientists took a major step forward in predictive technology this week with the development of a system of blood tests and an app that they say can predict with more than 90 per cent accuracy whether someone will start thinking about suicide or attempt it.
In a study published Tuesday, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine presented details of an app that measures mood and anxiety and that asks people a series of questions about life issues, things like: How high is your physical energy and the amount of moving about that you feel like doing right now? How good do you feel about yourself and your accomplishments right now? How uncertain about things do you feel right now?
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They purposely avoided asking any questions about suicide directly. Writing in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the researchers said that "predicting suicidal behaviour in individuals is one of the hard problems in psychiatry, and in society at large."
"One cannot always ask individuals if they are suicidal, as desire not to be stopped or future impulsive changes of mind may make their self-report of feelings, thoughts and plans to be unreliable," Alexander B. Niculescu III, a professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at Indiana University, and his co-authors wrote.
The researchers separately studied a group of 217 males who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric issues. About 20 per cent went from no suicidal thoughts to a high level of suicidal thoughts while they were being seen at a clinic at the university.
By analysing their blood samples, the researchers were able to identify RNA biomarkers that appeared to predict suicidal thinking.
They wrote that it's unclear how well the biomarkers would work in the larger population due to the fact that the study was limited to high-risk males with psychiatric diagnoses, but that the app is ready to be deployed and tested on a wider group in real-world settings such as emergency rooms.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• The Word
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.