On Dec. 12, data scientists, engineers, designers and domain experts are joining forces across five cities for one purpose – to prevent suicide by unlocking the power of open data and technology. The following blog announcing the event was originally posted on the White House blog.

Our mental and physical health go hand-in-hand. Both are core to who we are as people.

A quick glance at social media or the magazine rack in grocery aisles, however, shows that we focus much more on our physical health. Media and magazine smiles belie the fact that approximately one in five American adults—our friends, colleagues, and loved ones—experience a diagnosable mental health condition like depression or post-traumatic stress at some time during their life. Recovery often occurs with treatment. Yet some Americans still suffer undiagnosed, undertreated, or untreated mental-health challenges that increase their risk for suicide, contributing to the more than 41,000 suicide deaths that occur in the United States each year. As the President pointed out when he proclaimed September 9, 2015 as World Suicide Prevention Day:

All people deserve the opportunity to live healthy, rewarding lives… Suicide prevention is the responsibility of all people. One small act — the decision to reach out to your neighbor, offer support to a friend, or encourage a veteran in need to seek help — can make a difference. It can help energize a national conversation and a changing attitude across America. If you are hurting, know this: You are not forgotten. 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.

By working together with open minds, data, medical treatment, and innovations, we can promote mental health and save lives.

What is the Obama Administration doing to promote mental health and prevent suicide?

The Affordable Care Act #GetCovered initiative extends mental-health and substance-abuse benefits to over 60 million Americans. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which the President signed in February 2015, extends benefits and resources for Veterans with post-traumatic stress and other medical challenges. More recently, President Obama declared World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 and hosted a White House event, Partnerships for Suicide Prevention, on October 9, 2015, as part of Global Suicide Prevention Month and Global Mental Health Day. The event had a mission of “Using data to strengthen mental health awareness and suicide prevention.”

Furthermore, the Obama Administration places high priority on science and data as tools for solving complex challenges, and is committed to using open data and innovation to the priority issues of mental health and suicide prevention.

How can you get involved?

To advance mental health and suicide-prevention efforts, organizations across the United States will host a series of events on Saturday, December 12, in five cities:

  1. Boston, MA: The Department of Veteran Affairs Healthcare System in Jamaica Plain will host a data sprint (a focused set of activities working on data) focused on identifying Veterans at risk for suicides using Federal and academic open data sets. This event is focused on connecting 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.
  2. 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 determine available resources as needed. This hackathon will create Chicago’s very first, real-time, open database providing free information on mental health.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Each hackathon/data jam will bring together data scientists, innovators, designers, and next-gen technologists with subject-matter experts in suicide prevention. All are united with a common purpose—to prevent suicide—yet each event will develop its own unique product, tool, or analysis.

Each of these events is free and open to the public (space allowing) so act now to learn more about how you can get involved. You can join in person at one of the above events…or organize your own! Get the word out, share your ideas for suicide prevention, and join the discussion with: #MentalHealthHackathon.


About the authors:  DJ Patil is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Kristen Honey is a Policy Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. This article was originally posted on the White House blog.

Share this story

Published on Dec. 9, 2015

Estimated reading time is 5.1 min.

Views to date: 70


  1. DannyG December 17, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    Gary, you know my voice on this blog, & U know if I’m wrong, I will admit it. Isn’t this where I got on my “soap box” & ended up asking your president & the other politicians –
    Who ‘ya gonna call? (i liked that) Seriously, if I’m wrong, & owe apologies, let me know!

    p.s. didn’t mean to air dirty laundry

    • Gary Hicks December 18, 2015 at 7:20 am

      No apologies needed Danny, I just didn’t see any deleted messages. I checked the trash and spam folders … nothing from you that was deleted as far as I can tell in the last 30 days or so. Re-send it if you want and I’ll keep an eye out for it.

      An FYI for everyone else: If I hold a message, you will get an email stating exactly why I am holding that message and you will have the option to revise your comments or ask to have it deleted. The main reason for this is usually foul language, not an attempt to suppress anyone’s First Amendment right. Political comments are fine too as long as they are related to the topic that is being discussed.

  2. DannyG December 16, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    What’s the deal? Did you guys edit out my comment to this article? I wasn’t rude or anything! If the 1st amendment means nothing HERE, then my brother may as well quit his job NOW, bcuz the gov’t has already won, & America & Her veterans are doomed!

    • Gary Hicks December 17, 2015 at 7:07 am

      What’s missing Danny?

  3. Brooks December 12, 2015 at 7:30 am

    I am ex USAF and I have been struggling with depression and all its forms, I have attempted suicide 3 times now and I can’t escape the feeling of loneliness and shame, it is a constant battle to go into public; with that being said impossible to keep a steady job I don’t Know what else to do I have lost my family and haven’t amounted to anythjng for the family I do have to be proud of where do we go from rock bottom

Comments are closed.

More Stories

  • In the aftermath of Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, VA has benefits and resources for Veterans and families impacted by this natural disaster.

  • In 2022, VA set a goal to house 38,000 homeless Veterans. With only a few months to go, how are we doing?

  • Under the PACT Act, Vietnam era, Gulf War era, and Post-9/11 Veterans have extended eligibility for VA health care.