Apple's Siri Finally Delivers Suicide Prevention Info

Since Apple’s release of Siri, the personal digital assistant tucked into the latest versions of the iPhone and other “iProducts”, people have been asking her all sorts of questions from serious to silly. (And, this guy even tried to get Siri to talk to herself. And it sort of worked.)

Although iPhone users are definitely having some fun with her Easter eggs, she’s designed to handle more routine inquiries, like how to find Eddie’s Diner or a list of chiropractors are in your town. She can also set reminders for you, add items to your grocery list, or send text messages on your behalf.

She’s a device, but she’s also a personality: sometimes clever, sometimes caustic.

“I COULDN’T FIND ANY SUICIDE PREVENTION CENTERS”

My husband brought home his new iPhone last year, I decided to put Siri to the test by asking her something more serious — if I should kill myself. I pretended that I was suicidal, and I asked for help.

But she was less than helpful:

Then, a few months later, I decided to test her out again with a few more inquiries to see if she’d been updated to at least provide the phone number for a national suicide hotline. Sadly, no go:

SIRI’S CHANGE OF HEART CODE

But now, Apple’s announced that Siri is now capable of responding to suicidal language — instead of directing a user to nearby bridges, she actually provides the phone number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (or NSPL). From ABC News:

Prior to this week if you had told Siri “I want to kill myself” or “I want to jump off a bridge,” the service would either search the web or worse search for the nearest bridge. Now, Apple has directed the assistant to immediately return the phone number of the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“If you are thinking about suicide, you may want to speak with someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” the service says aloud in response to “I want to kill myself.”

This is an excellent step in the right direction, and I hope the online mental health community prompted Apple’s decision, at least in part. (I think we’re a powerful bunch, and capable of doing plenty of good.)

We don’t know why Apple decided to make the update, but we do know that they’ve been working directly with the NSPL. Again, from ABC News:

“[Apple was] extremely excited and interested in helping, and they were very thorough about best approaches,” John Draper, director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network, told ABC News. “We talked with a number of our national advisers and they advised us on key words that could better identify if a person was suicidal so it could then offer the Lifeline number.”

It’s heartening to see such a large corporation tugging the iPhone closer to the human condition — in a way that can help save lives.

Update: I’ve now tested Siri’s updates for myself, and while I’m pleased to see her delivering the NSPL phone number far more often than I’d expected, Apple still has some work to do. Watch the video here: “Siri, I Want To Kill Myself”: Is Apple’s New Update Enough?

 


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    Last reviewed: 21 Jun 2013

APA Reference
Beretsky, S. (2013). Apple’s Siri Finally Delivers Suicide Prevention Info. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/panic/2013/06/apples-siri-finally-delivers-suicide-prevention-info/

 

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