NUI Maynooth develops new suicide test

NUI Maynooth have developed a new system which can help to identify those at risk of suicide. James Falconer reports…

A new system developed by NUI Maynooth may help detect suicidal tendencies.

A new system developed by NUI Maynooth may help detect suicidal tendencies.

A computer-based system which can help to identify those at risk of suicide has been developed by researchers at NUI Maynooth.

According to its Department of Psychology, the system can correctly identify those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts with 75% accuracy.

The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) requires participants to confirm or refute statements under time pressure.

Reaction times are tracked and passed through a computer process, which is then used to reveal unconscious attitudes or biases that are used to predict actual behaviour.

Trials of the system were conducted over the past year with 24 service-users from St Patrick’s University Hospital in Dublin, Ireland’s largest independent mental health hospital.

The system was developed by Prof Dermot Barnes-Holmes, who said; “Some of the most difficult behaviours to predict are those that occur very rarely, but have large and devastating consequences, such as suicide.”

Prof Barnes-Holmes worked alongside PhD student Ian Hussey, who said the test was less invasive than traditional methods that required people to talk openly about their struggle with suicidal thoughts; “We hope that this research could significantly impact how hospitals and doctors can assess individuals who present at hospitals and A&E with mental health complaints, helping to identify priority cases in terms of psychological care. Ireland is no stranger to the issue of suicide and we have higher rates than the European average, especially among young men.”

Experts have suggested that initiatives to prevent suicide should now take on added urgency, given the significant rise in unemployment rates during the recession and the 7% increase in suicides between 2010 and 2011.

According to a paper published in International Psychiatry, the journal of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, both international and Irish literature draw clear links between unemployment and suicide.

Ireland’s unemployment rate has rocketed from 4% in 2006 to 14.6% in 2013 – while the suicide rate over the same period rose slightly, from 10.8% to 11.4% suicides per 100,000 population; the fact that the 525 suicides recorded in 2011 represented an increase of 7% on the previous year suggested that our economic problems may have a delayed effect on suicide rates.

There is strong evidence to support the claim that with every 1% increase in unemployment there’s a 0.79% rise in suicides among those aged below 65.

To date, research into suicide has largely focused on long-term suicide risk factors to indicate whether someone is at an increased risk over many years — analysing factors such as hopelessness, serious health complaints, and previous suicidal behaviour.

The NUI Maynooth project focuses on short-term suicide risk assessment. The research project, which is funded by the Irish Research Council, is a finalist for the upcoming “Making a Difference” awards run by the Higher Education Authority to acknowledge useful postgraduate research work.

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