BYU researchers create algorithm to predict adolescent suicidal thoughts, behavior

Nov 4, 2021, 1:29 PM

Suicide prevention card. A Utah agency is holding suicide prevention classes...

A drawing hangs along with other messages of hope and remembrance as part of Suicide Prevention Day at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. (Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps/Deseret News)

PROVO — New research from Brigham Young University led to the creation of an algorithm that can accurately predict suicidal thoughts and behavior among Utah junior high and high school students. 

The study of nearly 180,000 teenagers in Utah led researchers to identify the most likely predictors of suicidal thoughts and behavior. These include online harassment, bullying at school, and major arguments between family members. 

“Those things were really related to what’s going on digitally in adolescents’ lives and also what’s going on in the home,” says Carl Hansen, professor of public health at BYU. 

Read more: After daughter’s suicide attempt, mom wants to give kids tools to break free

Using machine learning, Hansen says they could predict troubling thoughts and actions with remarkable precision. 

“We were able to predict with 91% accuracy suicidal thought and behavior among this adolescent population,” he says. 

Read more: Reasons to Hope: Suicide is Utah’s most preventable tragedy

The study concluded females were at greater risk than men by about 7%. Analysis of the data also discovered adolescents without a father in the home were an astonishing 72.6% more likely to have suicidal ideation. 

Of course, Hansen points out, this is a matter of correlation and not causation.  A student experiencing interpersonal trouble on social media, in the halls at school, and in the living room with the family will not automatically resort to these thoughts and behaviors. The correlations are strong, but there may be other factors involved in why a teenager would have these feelings. 

However, this gives an excellent place to begin when considering ideas for prevention. This is especially true with a 91% percent accuracy threshold. 

Hansen says, “If you want to wrap your head around what you can do about it, these profiles are one good place to start.” 

As a father himself, the professor hopes this information gives communities, schools, and families more tools to create programs implement policy, and improve mental wellbeing among young, vulnerable Utahns. 

Read more: Utah launches three year, multi-million dollar suicide prevention campaign

Know the warning signs

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or exhibiting warning signs, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The following are warning signs of immediate risk. Call 911 if you or someone you know is experiencing the following:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themself or talking of wanting to hurt or kill themself
  • Looking for ways to kill themself by seeking access to firearms, available pills or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary

Additional warning signs include: 

  • Increased substance use
  • No reason for living, no sense of purpose in life
  • Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Feeling trapped — like there’s no way out
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and society
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
  • Dramatic mood changes

Courtesy of the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories


A new release from Intermountain Healthcare shows that younger adults are becoming more susceptible...

Waverly Golden

Younger adults are becoming more susceptible to strokes

A new release from Intermountain Healthcare shows that younger adults are becoming more susceptible to stroke.

5 months ago

Melissa Coleman crouches next to her husband, , Brad Coleman, of North Ogden, who sits in a wheelch...

Jenny Carpenter,

Young stroke victim survives with quick, lifesaving treatment in northern Utah

After a 36-year-old man had a stroke, he and his wife say to be aware of the signs of stroke and that young people are also at risk.

5 months ago


Michelle Lee

How, and why, a hobby can bring joy to your life

If it brings you pleasure, is meaningful, and you can do it regularly, you've got yourself a hobby! Here's why they can benefit us so much.

5 months ago

A new release from Intermountain Healthcare shows that younger adults are becoming more susceptible...

Alexandrea Bonilla

Utah clinics winning the fight against overprescribed antibiotics

Intermountain Health and the University of Utah found that urgent-care facilities were more likely to prescribe antibiotics as a quick, easy solution.

5 months ago

Utah Food Bank...

Allessandra Harris

Utah Food Bank aims to ‘Stamp Out Hunger’ this summer

The Utah Food Bank is joining forces with the Letter Carriers Union to collect non-perishable food items for those in need.

5 months ago


LEANNE ITALIE AP Entertainment Writer

Mommy blogger Heather Armstrong, known as Dooce to fans, dead at 47

Armstrong had laid bare her struggles as a mother and her battles with depression and alcoholism on her site,, and on social media since 2001.

5 months ago

Sponsored Articles

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Group of cheerful team members high fiving each other...

Visit Bear Lake

How To Plan a Business Retreat in Bear Lake This Spring

Are you wondering how to plan a business retreat this spring? Read our sample itinerary to plan a team getaway to Bear Lake.

Cheerful young woman writing an assignment while sitting at desk between two classmates during clas...

BYU EMBA at the Marriott School of Business

Hear it Firsthand: 6 Students Share Their Executive MBA Experience at BYU’s Marriott School of Business

The Executive MBA program at BYU offers great opportunities. Hear experiences straight from students enrolled in the program.

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and gates.

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...

Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer.

Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy.

BYU researchers create algorithm to predict adolescent suicidal thoughts, behavior