The Brain’s Reaction to Certain Words May Hint at Suicide Risk

A revolutionary new study from the Nature Human Behaviour journal has shed a new light on the ability of technology to assess mental health. The study involved subjects of various mental health backgrounds who were provided with several words that have both positive and negative connotations. Once the subjects were shown the words, computers studied their brain patterns, finding a correlation between a person’s reaction and their risk of suicide to a very accurate degree.

The words that the patients were given ranged from those such as “carefree” to words with clear negative associations, such as “death” or “cruelty.” The results of the study, stemming from previous research involving MRIs, are based primarily off of unusual emotional responses expressed by those being observed. The computers are able to detect which of those who participated in the study are at risk for suicide.

The results can not only provide us with data as to who experiences suicidal impulses but can produce even more specific information as to the background of those in the study. For instance, the technology involved can go so far as to specify whether a subject has considered suicide, or has acted on the impulse. This information is gathered because people of various backgrounds and neurological states think of the given topics in different ways, and the computers can decipher it.

The results of the study are preliminary and have not been tested on a wide range of people. The original study took place among 34 young adults, and will, therefore, need to be tested again before widely applicable theories can be developed.

However, the data can still drastically impact the world of mental health treatment. Experiments such as this one can offer early warnings of suicidal behavior, which is especially important because suicide prevention can be very challenging, as other signs can be hard to detect. This new method could also help to develop new psychological treatments, as well as to measure the effectiveness of previous treatments. Overall, it is evident that technology may be a somewhat untapped resource in the world of combatting mental health conditions.

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Margaret is a Sophomore at Kirby School in Santa Cruz, California. She is a passionate activist and journalist and especially enjoys writing about feminism. You can follow her on Instagram at: @_.margaret.

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