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Here’s How Reddit’s Technology and New Partnership are Supporting Mental Health

Humanity

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The platform is partnering with the Crisis Text Line and sharing its data with the CDC to increase access to resources and shape new approaches to public health.

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Today’s teens spend nearly seven and a half hours on their phones each day per a recent report by Common Sense Media, a non-profit dedicated to promoting safe technology and media use for children. Those in the tween category (ages 8 to 12) don’t fall far behind in comparison spending roughly four hours and 45 minutes daily.

As these stats have evolved, there has been a lot of research and discussion around the correlation between this screen time and the mental health and wellbeing of younger demographics. While some argue the linkage is clear and direct, others push back and advocate the connection is more nuanced — that it is about the quality of use that determines whether the relationship to the platforms is healthy and productive or if it’s simply a distraction from larger issues and there isn’t enough adequate mental health services at their disposal.

Younger users are becoming increasingly aware of the negative implications of their social media use and are turning to the platforms to help them take the steps to mitigate these appropriately.

PROVIDING AN OFF-RAMP TO KEY RESOURCES

A growing number of platforms including Snapchat and Pinterest are innovating around opportunities to meet their users where they are and connect them with the communities and tools they can take offline. Reddit is yet another example recently unveiling a slew of suicide prevention tools created in partnership with the Crisis Text Line. Specifically, the update includes a feature that allows Redditors to report those who are encountered and felt to be at risk.

Users can flag someone through reporting a comment or piece of content or by using a button on the individual’s user profile. To report directly from a post, simply select the option that reads, “Someone is considering suicide or serious self-harm.” Alternatively, if you’re on the person’s profile, tap the prompt that says “get them help and support.” A note: if you’re accessing Reddit from your computer on a web browser this will fall under the “more options” section.

When a user is flagged, the platform will send a private message including details to access mental health resources and a suggestion to text the phrase ‘CHAT’ to the number for the Crisis Text Line, 741741. They will then be connected to a trained counselor with whom they can text for as long as they need to have someone to actively empathize with them and help them get to the root of their thoughts and feelings.

EMPLOYING GOOD AI: FUELING NEW APPROACHES TO PUBLIC HEALTH

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leveraging artificial intelligence from Reddit and Twitter to improve the forecasting of suicide rates. Its current figures, according to a spokesperson, are currently delayed up to two years, negatively influencing policy updates the allocation of resources. This is a significant problem given suicide rates have surged 40 percent in less than two decades.

Without the most up-to-date numbers, the agency can’t properly respond and improve how it’s directing its efforts so it’s relying on platforms to help whittle down publicly available data and address the question: how can signals from various real-time sources be leveraged in order to offset this one to two-year lag?

A helpful source has been reports that break down keyword use across platforms related to suicide. When combined with other CDC data including crisis text and call lines and previous suicide rates from the National Vital Statistics program, newer algorithms can be trained to forecast the actual rate.

“We can now estimate these rates of suicide up to a year in advance of when death records become available,” said Munmun de Choudhury, a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing who is working with the CDC on this project, in a statement to Recode. What does this say for future projections? Data collected until December 2019 can be employed to predict the suicide rate for every week of 2021. She added that the initial phase of the research had an error rate of less than 1 percent.

Social media can be a force for deeper and more empathetic human connection. But, as brands and platforms, we need to put our creative energy behind the programs, partnerships, and technology at our disposal if we are to make a dent in the problem. We have a moral obligation to ensure we’re creating safe and meaningful spaces in which today’s youth can interact and grow and understand the importance of empathy as a foundational skill.

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