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Testing out suicide risk prediction algorithms using phone measurements with patients in acute mental health settings: a feasibility study

Haines, Alina and Chahal, Gurdit and Bruen, Ashley Jane and Wall, Abbie and Khan, Christina Tara and Sadashiv, Ramesh and Fearnley, David (2020) Testing out suicide risk prediction algorithms using phone measurements with patients in acute mental health settings: a feasibility study. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 8 (6). (In Press)


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Background: Digital phenotyping and machine learning are currently being used to augment or even replace traditional analytic procedures in many domains, including health care. Given the heavy reliance on smartphones and mobile devices around the world, this readily available source of data is an important and highly underutilized source that has the potential to improve mental health risk prediction and prevention and advance mental health globally. Objective: This study aimed to apply machine learning in an acute mental health setting for suicide risk prediction. This study uses a nascent approach, adding to existing knowledge by using data collected through a smartphone in place of clinical data, which have typically been collected from health care records. Methods: We created a smartphone app called Strength Within Me, which was linked to Fitbit, Apple Health kit, and Facebook, to collect salient clinical information such as sleep behavior and mood, step frequency and count, and engagement patterns with the phone from a cohort of inpatients with acute mental health (n=66). In addition, clinical research interviews were used to assess mood, sleep, and suicide risk. Multiple machine learning algorithms were tested to determine the best fit. Results: K-nearest neighbors (KNN; k=2) with uniform weighting and the Euclidean distance metric emerged as the most promising algorithm, with 68% mean accuracy (averaged over 10,000 simulations of splitting the training and testing data via 10-fold cross-validation) and an average area under the curve of 0.65. We applied a combined 5×2 F test to test the model performance of KNN against the baseline classifier that guesses training majority, random forest, support vector machine and logistic regression, and achieved F statistics of 10.7 (P=.009) and 17.6 (P=.003) for training majority and random forest, respectively, rejecting the null of performance being the same. Therefore, we have taken the first steps in prototyping a system that could continuously and accurately assess the risk of suicide via mobile devices. Conclusions: Predicting for suicidality is an underaddressed area of research to which this paper makes a useful contribution. This is part of the first generation of studies to suggest that it is feasible to utilize smartphone-generated user input and passive sensor data to generate a risk algorithm among inpatients at suicide risk. The model reveals fair concordance between phone-derived and research-generated clinical data, and with iterative development, it has the potential for accurate discriminant risk prediction. However, although full automation and independence of clinical judgment or input would be a worthy development for those individuals who are less likely to access specialist mental health services, and for providing a timely response in a crisis situation, the ethical and legal implications of such advances in the field of psychiatry need to be acknowledged.

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