Smartphones, Sensors, and Machine Learning to Advance Real-Time Prediction and Interventions for Suicide Prevention: a Review of Current Progress and Next Steps

  • John TorousEmail author
  • Mark E. Larsen
  • Colin Depp
  • Theodore D. Cosco
  • Ian Barnett
  • Matthew K. Nock
  • Joe Firth
Psychiatry in the Digital Age (J Shore, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Psychiatry in the Digital Age


Purpose of Review

As rates of suicide continue to rise, there is urgent need for innovative approaches to better understand, predict, and care for those at high risk of suicide. Numerous mobile and sensor technology solutions have already been proposed, are in development, or are already available today. This review seeks to assess their clinical evidence and help the reader understand the current state of the field.

Recent Findings

Advances in smartphone sensing, machine learning methods, and mobile apps directed towards reducing suicide offer promising evidence; however, most of these innovative approaches are still nascent. Further replication and validation of preliminary results is needed.


Whereas numerous promising mobile and sensor technology based solutions for real time understanding, predicting, and caring for those at highest risk of suicide are being studied today, their clinical utility remains largely unproven. However, given both the rapid pace and vast scale of current research efforts, we expect clinicians will soon see useful and impactful digital tools for this space within the next 2 to 5 years.


Suicide Apps Mobile health Big data Algorithms Machine learning Smartphones Mental health 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

John Torous, Colin Depp, Theodore D. Cosco, Ian Barnett, Matthew K. Nock, and Joe Firth declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Mark E. Larsen reports a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Torous
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark E. Larsen
    • 2
  • Colin Depp
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Theodore D. Cosco
    • 6
  • Ian Barnett
    • 7
  • Matthew K. Nock
    • 8
    • 9
  • Joe Firth
    • 10
    • 11
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Division of Digital Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterHarvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA
  2. 2.Black Dog InstituteUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  4. 4.Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare SystemSan DiegoUSA
  5. 5.Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on AgingUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  6. 6.Oxford Institute of Population AgeingUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  7. 7.Department of BiostatisticsUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  8. 8.Department of PsychologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  9. 9.Department of PsychiatryHarvard Medical SchoolCambridgeUSA
  10. 10.NICM Health Research Institute, School of Science and HealthUniversity of Western SydneySydneyAustralia
  11. 11.Division of Psychology and Mental Health, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and HealthUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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