White House hacks suicide prevention at events around the nation


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Innovation around open data could hold the key to saving thousands of lives lost to suicide every year, the Obama administration hopes.

The White House is staging a series of data hackathons Saturday to advance suicide-prevention efforts in America. The events, hosted in five major metropolitan areas across the nation, invite the public to join offices and agencies from different levels of government as well as nonprofits, to build technology to help prevent the more than 41,000 suicides in the U.S. each year.

“By working together with open minds, data, medical treatment, and innovations, we can promote mental health and save lives,” DJ Patil, White House chief data scientist, and Kristen Honey, a policy adviser in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, wrote in a White House blog post on the events.

Each of the hackathons will have a distinct focus on different types of tools the participants will be asked to build. From the blog post:

  • Boston, MA: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs Healthcare System in Jamaica Plain will host a data sprint (a set of activities working on a defined set of data) focused on identifying Veterans at risk for suicides using Federal and academic open data sets. This event is intended to connect mental-health professionals, Veterans, designers, engineers, technologists, and data scientists to co-design interventions using open data sets to proactively reach Veterans at risk for suicide.
  • Chicago, IL: The Office of the Mayor of the City of Chicago will host a hackathon for developing and populating a “mental health resource tool” and the processes for keeping such a tool up-to-date in real time, so that mental-health service providers, emergency responders, police officers, and others can readily find available resources as needed. This hackathon will create Chicago’s very first, real-time, open database providing free information on mental health.
  • New York, NY: Crisis Text Line will host a hackathon and data sprint to develop an open application programming interface (API) for free software information that summarizes the mandatory reporting laws of abuse, neglect, and harm in all 50 states. These laws vary by geographic region, but are always essential to the efforts of all suicide-prevention services.
  • San Francisco, CA: Bayes Impact will host a hackathon to build software prototypes and data visualizations using open data to address suicide among Veterans. This event will virtually bring together domain experts from the Boston event with designers, engineers, and data scientists from leading Silicon Valley companies for a cross-country collaborative effort.
  • Washington, D.C.: The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Transportation, General Services Administration, and civil society will participate in a tech sprint to augment Data.gov—the home of the Federal government’s open data, and a place where the public can find free data, tools, and resources—by adding new data and enhancing datasets related to suicide in order to stimulate new research, encourage innovative data visualizations, and facilitate the development of web and mobile applications.

“If you are hurting, know this: You are not forgotten,” President Barack Obama said on Sept. 9, the day he proclaimed World Suicide Prevention Day. “You are never alone. Your country is here for you, and help is available. As we pause to raise awareness of the importance of suicide prevention, let us remember all those we have lost and the loved ones they left behind. As one people, we stand with all who struggle with mental illness, and we continue our work to prevent this heartbreak in our communities.”

The hackathons are free and open to the public, space permitting. Register here.

Reach the reporter at billy.mitchell@fedscoop.com, or follow him on Twitter @BillyMitchell89.

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Applications & Software, challenges, emerging technology, Government IT News, Innovation, Tech, White House