Machine learning (ML) is increasingly used to predict suicide deaths but their value for suicide prevention has not been established. Our first objective was to identify risk and protective factors in a general population. Our second objective was to identify factors indicating imminent suicide risk.
We used survival and ML models to identify lifetime predictors using the Cohort of Norway (n=173,275) and hospital diagnoses in a Saskatoon clinical sample (n=12,614). The mean follow-up times were 17 years and 3 years for the Cohort of Norway and Saskatoon respectively. People in the clinical sample had a longitudinal record of hospital visits grouped in six-month intervals. We developed models in a training set and these models predicted survival probabilities in held-out test data.
In the general population, we found that a higher proportion of low-income residents in a county, mood symptoms, and daily smoking increased the risk of dying from suicide in both genders. In the clinical sample, the only predictors identified were male gender and older age.
Suicide prevention probably requires individual actions with governmental incentives. The prediction of imminent suicide remains highly challenging, but machine learning can identify early prevention targets.