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College Park Student Builds AI App to Assess Suicide Risk

An 18-year-old at the Woodlands College Park High School in Texas won $50,000 from the Regeneron Science Talent Search for a semantics model and syntax assessment that can use daily diary entries to gauge suicide risk.

(TNS) — The Woodlands College Park senior Siddhu Pachipala swapped the typical high school spring break experience for a trip to Washington, D.C., placing ninth at the Regeneron Science Talent Search for his research into using artificial intelligence to gauge suicide risk.

Pachipala won $50,000 for his research on March 14, which analyzed how patients used language in daily diary entries to determine suicide risk.

On Saturday, his SuiSensor application placed first in the Behavioral and Social Sciences at the Texas Science and Engineering Fair in College Station, earning a berth in Regeneron's International Science and Engineering Fair in Dallas this May.

Pachipala developed code based on two language properties — semantics, or word choice, and syntax, or word order. His semantics model was over 98 percent accurate at assessing suicide risk and 86.75 percent accurate at treatment recommendations. While his syntax assessment was lower, at around 60 and 40 percent, respectively, it's still higher than the current system's 5.5 percent accuracy, Pachipala said.

Pachipala said suicide risk identification and treatment has remained virtually unchanged since 1952.

"We're using the same assessments our grandparents used, and you see that with low accuracy and low performance in clinical settings," Pachipala said. "So I just saw that and the contrast between this as a big issue, one that's more important than ever."

Pachipala, 18, already is a veteran in data analysis. A current research intern for the University of California's EdgeLab, Pachipala has been bridging the gap between hard-hitting data and hot button social issues since seventh grade.

Previous work includes studying the factors behind political polarization, developing an ASL interpreter that accounts for ethnic dialects, and disaggregating surgery outcomes by race for the Baylor College of Medicine. Pachipala also has written editorials for Newsweek and is the CEO of advocacy group Embolden.

Suicide rates are highest among teens and young adults, an issue Pachipala has been involved with since 2019. Pachipala said personal experience and the COVID pandemic inspired him to analyze suicide research.

"People were more stressed, more anxious and more depressed, and they did exactly what they thought they had to do, right? They went to therapy and got treatment after treatment after treatment, and it seemed that none of that would work for them," Pachipala said. "A lot of them I think felt hopeless, that they were the problem, that they were unfixable. But when you look at that, simultaneously you see that suicide is highly preventable."

After a two-year decline, suicide rates rose in the U.S. once more in 2021.

Montgomery County officials have prioritized mental health, allocating $15 million of federal funding to mental health programs in November 2022. In March, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office formed a crisis intervention team in which officers will be accompanied by experts on mental health calls to de-escalate the situation and offer mental health interventions.

Last fall, a county-wide task force conducted a qualitative study to identify gaps in mental health services in Montgomery County. Judge Wayne Mack, NAMI Greater Houston President Brenda LaVar and other local advocates presented their findings at the Hope Rising Mental Health Conference in The Woodlands March 3.

Magnolia-based mental health nonprofit Mosaics of Mercy also released the county's second phase with an online quantitative mental health database. The database can be used as a middleman between potential patients and providers in the county, filtering their search based on insurance and treatment needs in order to find appropriate mental health services.

Mosaics of Mercy executive director Jamie Freels-Runey said the organization will also collect analytics from the database, providing concrete demographic data on what groups need the most support in the county.

While personal anecdotes help identify an issue, Freels-Runey said data analysis, like Pachipala's research, can help advocate for new funding and policies.

"How do you measure quality in mental health? It's not like (physical) medicine," Freels-Runey said. "Part of our problem has been, if someone throws a million dollars at something, they want to know what their return is on that investment, and that's not always easy to if you

have the numbers, they can tell a much different, more powerful story."

Pachipala will attend MIT in the fall, where he hopes to continue to apply a sociological lens to science.

"Over high school, I've really gotten the perspective that science is more like a method. It's how we can pick apart our biggest social issues," Pachipala said. "I'm also really interested in the civics and advocacy side of things because I think a lot of research might end at the point where I really think it should be continuing. After we find out something big, the way we really make a difference is to work past the symposium, past the technical papers and into our communities."

Until then, Pachipala will continue to sing in his a cappella group, finish his senior year and head to the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair May 14-19 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas.

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