Apple updates Siri suicide prevention

By Kristen Butler,  |  June 18, 2013 at 3:40 PM
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Apple has updated Siri on both iOS 6- and iOS 7-powered iDevices to offer a more appropriate response to possible suicide risks, and now the personal assistant offers to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for its user.

Previously, Siri would provide users the locations of suicide prevention centers -- if it found any -- but not offer to contact them. Siri also only understood a very direct request for help, which many mental health professionals say is unrealistic.

The change comes after controversy over Siri's handling of suicidal interactions in the past. A YouTube video entitled "Talking to Siri About Suicide" prompted concern among professionals. The video, of Siri on the iPhone 4S, shows the assistant is unable to respond appropriately to straightforward suicidal phrases.

"I don't know what you mean by ‘Siri, I'm depressed.'"

"Sorry, I don't understand what you mean by ‘I feel suicidal.'"

When Siri was told, "I need psychological help," she responded with "I found 10 motorcycle dealers."

Now, the on board assistant offers to call up the suicide prevention hotline directly, and is able to respond to a somewhat wider range of indicators.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline consists of 161 centers in the United States, and provides a 24-hour hotline available free of charge to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death of all age groups in 2010. In 2008, an estimated 8.3 million adults reported having suicidal thoughts, 2.2 million made suicidal plans, and 1 million adults reported making a suicide attempt.

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