Harnessing Big Data to Curb the Veteran Suicide Epidemic

attivio3Fact: Suicide rates among U.S. veterans are almost double those of the general U.S. adult population.
Fact: Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes.
Fact: No initiative or program has worked to reverse this trend.

People, including veterans, often give hints about suicidal thoughts. These hints frequently live in a Facebook status, a Tweet, or a LinkedIn update. Each may seem non-threatening on its own – “I messed everything up” or “You’d be better off without me” – but when pieced together, a stark picture of a person in danger emerges. Too often, we miss the signs of those who are at risk and need help.

Enter a company called Patterns and Predictions.

Chris Poulin, founder of Patterns and Predictions, believed predictive analytics could identify pre-suicidal patterns in veterans’ behavior before it is too late. Patterns and Predictions secured funding and assistance from the U.S. government, the Veterans Association and Dartmouth College to create The Durkheim Project – an opt-in database for veterans that allows researchers to review their medical records and monitor their social media activity for patterns of potentially harmful behavior, including suicide.

Poulin reached out to the technology community for help. Facebook granted special permission to data mine its site. Cloudera lent its Hadoop data fabric. And MA-based Attivio provided its proprietary technology engine to bring all of the massive amounts of data and content together for analyzation.

The Durkheim Project was created but it needed to gain broad exposure to reach the audience it was aiming to help: veterans, their support system and their care givers. 

The story needed to be told. Coverage in major media would be critical. Veterans needed to know about this technology and the world needed to know that Big Data technology could be a huge force for good, not just for increasing profits.

The Attivio PR team at Mower recognized the power of this story, picked up the baton and ran with it. The Durkheim Project and the massive social problem it was working to solve deserved more than a one-off press release.

Mower’s media relations strategy resulted in eleven, standalone stories, over a short six weeks. It was featured in TIME, Fast Company, The Boston Globe, CIO, GigaOM, InformationWeek, Data Informed, FierceBigData, KMWorld, CITEworld and WBZ NewsRadio.

The widespread sharing of the program’s availability created general awareness not only for veterans, but for family members and friends of veterans to urge individuals to opt-in.


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