Applied AI technology makes its mark on national suicide monitoring system

Applied AI technology makes its mark on national suicide monitoring system

Monash University and Eastern Health’s Turning Point are using a $1.2 million (AUD) grant from Google to address major mental health challenges in society.

A joint project between Monash University and Eastern Health’s Turning Point, are using Artificial Intelligence (AI)  to streamline the coding of national suicide-related ambulance data to help paramedics respond more effectively and ultimately prevent potential suicide rates.

Ambulances are often the first point of contact in a crisis, making ambulance clinical records a unique data source to help inform suicide prevention efforts. In partnership with the Population Health team at Turning Point, Monash Faculty of Information Technology (IT) researchers are implementing specialised machine learning technologies to filter through ambulance data and categorise suicide-related mental health cases.

As the only Australian grant recipients of the 2019 Google AI Impact Challenge, the project will annotate a large database of clinical records into categories such as suicide attempt, suicidal ideation and self-injury without suicidal intent. This task is currently carried out by human annotators who interpret individual paramedic clinical records and categorise it accordingly.

By using the data that has been previously annotated, the machine learning model will be able to augment and accelerate the challenging work of categorising and filtering through tens of thousands of records per month.

A key outcome of the project has been ensuring greater efficiency and accuracy in data classification. With preliminary studies showing that two-thirds of the data processing can be eliminated, potentially reducing staff workload by over 30 per cent, thereby freeing them up for other tasks, and limiting their exposure to explicit content.

Implementing this machine learning model will result in the timely and cost-effective identification and coding of suicide-related ambulance data, to better inform policy and public health responses for suicide prevention.

By accurately classifying data records, researchers will be able to determine behaviours and relationships associated with certain classifications. For example, how self-harm incidents can relate to other factors such as violence, drug use and socioeconomic status.

AI project lead Wray Buntine, Professor of Data Science and AI in the Faculty of IT, said the project was driven by the University and Google’s shared commitment to social good.

“The coaching and support we’ve received through the Google AI Impact Challenge has been invaluable and amplified our project’s overall impact. The interactive sessions we’ve had with members of Google’s Emerging Tech Design team have allowed us to work with international leaders across the fields of people-centred AI. Through our shared values, we’re committed to using IT for social good,” Professor Buntine said.

By leveraging Google’s expertise and tools, researchers have been able to explore new ways of tackling a major societal challenge.

Program Manager at, Mollie Javerbaum, said the project is a great example of how emerging AI technology can be leveraged to create positive social impact while advancing the AI ecosystem.

"The Monash University and Turning Point teams have continued to make meaningful strides towards improving their suicide monitoring system through the application of AI," Ms Javerbaum said.

Turning Point is a national addiction treatment centre, dedicated to providing high quality, evidence-based treatment to people adversely affected by alcohol, drugs and gambling, integrated with world-leading research and education.

Turning Point Director and Monash University’s Professor of Addiction Studies and Services, Dan Lubman, believes the initiative has the potential to make a positive impact across the globe – and set international standards in supporting suicide prevention efforts.

“The project will uncover critical suicide trends and potential points of intervention to better inform policy and public health responses. The technology we’re developing will create opportunities for adoption internationally,” Professor Lubman said.

"We're already thinking of new ways to present our latest results to policymakers so that they can more quickly respond to merging issues", says Dr Debbie Scott, Strategic Lead of Population Health at Turning Point.

Monash and Turning Point researchers were among other Google AI Impact Challenge grantees presenting at the Google AI Impact Challenge Summit in San Francisco last week. Positioning Monash University and Eastern Health’s breakthrough research on a global stage.