Objective To estimate weekly suicide fatalities in the US in near real time.
Design, Setting, and Participants This cross-sectional national study used a machine learning pipeline to combine signals from several streams of real-time information to estimate weekly suicide fatalities in the US in near real time. This 2-phase approach first fits optimal machine learning models to each individual data stream and subsequently combines predictions made from each data stream via an artificial neural network. National-level US administrative data on suicide deaths, health services, and economic, meteorological, and online data were variously obtained from 2014 to 2017. Data were analyzed from January 1, 2014, to December 31, 2017.
Exposures Longitudinal data on suicide-related exposures were obtained from multiple, heterogeneous streams: emergency department visits for suicide ideation and attempts collected via the National Syndromic Surveillance Program (2015-2017); calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (2014-2017); calls to US poison control centers for intentional self-harm (2014-2017); consumer price index and seasonality-adjusted unemployment rate, hourly earnings, home price index, and 3-month and 10-year yield curves from the Federal Reserve Economic Data (2014-2017); weekly daylight hours (2014-2017); Google and YouTube search trends related to suicide (2014-2017); and public posts on suicide on Reddit (2 314 533 posts), Twitter (9 327 472 tweets; 2015-2017), and Tumblr (1 670 378 posts; 2014-2017).
Main Outcomes and Measures Weekly estimates of suicide fatalities in the US were obtained through a machine learning pipeline that integrated the above data sources. Estimates were compared statistically with actual fatalities recorded by the National Vital Statistics System.
Results Combining information from multiple data streams, the machine learning method yielded estimates of weekly suicide deaths with high correlation to actual counts and trends (Pearson correlation, 0.811; P < .001), while estimating annual suicide rates with low error (0.55%).
Conclusions and Relevance The proposed ensemble machine learning framework reduces the error for annual suicide rate estimation to less than one-tenth of that of current forecasting approaches that use only historical information on suicide deaths. These findings establish a novel approach for tracking suicide fatalities in near real time and provide the potential for an effective public health response such as supporting budgetary decisions or deploying interventions.