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Phone apps are helping scientists track suicidal thoughts in real time

Studies aim to find out if such close monitoring could help prevent suicides

By
9:00am, June 18, 2018
depressed woman

PRECIOUS TIME  Investigations that equip volunteers with smartphones indicate that suicidal thoughts fluctuate in signature ways over just a few hours. Closer scrutiny of these thinking patterns may lead to advances in suicide prevention.

Suicide research is undergoing a timing shift, and not a moment too soon. A new breed of studies that track daily — and even hourly — changes in suicidal thinking is providing intriguing, although still preliminary, insights into how to identify those on the verge of trying to kill themselves.

Monitoring ways in which suicidal thoughts wax and wane over brief time periods, it turns out, can potentially strengthen suicide prevention strategies.

Digital technology has made these investigations possible. Smartphone applications alert people to report on suicidal thoughts as they arise in real-world settings. Scientists have traditionally been limited to tracking suicidal thinking over intervals of weeks, months and years, often in research labs and hospitals.

But risk factors that do a decent job of predicting the emergence of suicidal thoughts and acts over the long haul, such as persistent feelings of hopelessness, provide little help in tagging those

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