The Data Briefing: White House Asks Data Scientists and App Developers to Help Suicide Prevention Efforts

Oct 7, 2015

The White House issued a call on September 30, 2015, for data scientists and app developers to help with a vital public health issue: suicide prevention. From the official announcement:

“If you are a data scientist, analyst, tech innovator, or entrepreneur interested in sharing ideas and resources for suicide prevention, we want to hear from you! Please send a brief note about your ideas and resources to mbasco[at] … [S]takeholders in suicide prevention will focus on three topic areas: data-driven suicide prevention or what the data tell us, key signs and symptoms of suicide risk, and leveraging technology and community participation to prevent suicide.”

The focus of photo of a page is on the word help.


In this column, I will describe some of the data sources that could be leveraged for building data analysis and apps to aid in the suicide prevention effort. This is not an exhaustive list because there are many agencies involved in this mental health issue with data resources scattered throughout various agency websites. There are some great federal government resources, but, maybe, the first step is a single portal and app that provides a one-stop-shop for at-risk individuals, families, and health-care providers. Two good online resource sites to start from are the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Suicide Prevention page and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

The Support screen from the MY 3 suicide prevention app

One of the lead agencies for suicide prevention is SAMHSA, which provides two very good apps devoted to suicide prevention. The first app, My3, helps individuals create a support network. When the user is having suicidal thoughts or struggling with difficult emotions, he or she can use the app to reach quickly out to their family and friends for help.

The second app from SAMHSA is targeted for health care providers. Suicide Safe helps health care workers spot suicide risk among their patients and provides information on integrating suicide prevention methods into their health care practices. Suicide Safe is built around the Suicide Assessment Five-Step Evaluation and Triage framework created by SAMHSA.

SAMSHA also offers a revamped data page with access to datasets on mental health information and community health indicators. The data collections are divided into five major topic areas: emergency department data, substance abuse facilities data, mental health facilities data, client level data, and population data. Click on Population Data and the user will be brought to a page featuring links to downloadable data sets, reports, and the data collection methodology. Many datasets could potentially be used for exploring suicide prediction indicators and creating data-driven suicide prevention strategies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) resource page for suicide prevention lists CDC resources and the other federal agencies involved in suicide prevention along with external organizations devoted to understanding and preventing suicide. Many of these organizations offer useful resources for data scientists and app developers. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Self-Check Quiz is a great online tool where the veteran can fill out a short, confidential survey. The veteran is then contacted by a VA Chat Counselor. The veteran can choose to remain anonymous while deciding if he or she wants to follow up on the services provided. The Veterans Self-Check Quiz would make an excellent mobile app and could be repurposed for other at-risk populations.

Effective suicide prevention relies on helping individuals find the support they need, helping friends and families spot the warning signs and linking community resources to immediate mental health needs. If you are a data scientist, an app developer, or just have a good idea, please consider helping in making people’s lives better by reducing the risk of suicide in American society.

Each week, The Data Briefing showcases the latest federal data news and trends.

Dr. William Brantley is the Training Administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Global Intellectual Property Academy. You can find out more about his personal work in open data, analytics, and related topics at All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USPTO or GSA.

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