A NEW computer-based system that has been developed by Irish researchers has a 75pc chance of predicting if a patient is at short-term risk of suicide.
The assessment, which could be used in areas such as hospital A&E departments, was developed by a research group at NUI Maynooth's Department of Psychology.
"The test can correctly identify those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts with 75pc accuracy," said a spokesman for the department.
"It could be called on in hospital and A&E settings to help evaluate whether an individual is at risk and better allocate scarce treatment resources."
The Implicit Relational Assessment Procedure (IRAP) asks patients to confirm or refute statements while under time pressure.
"Reaction times are tracked and passed through a computer algorithm, which is used to reveal unconscious attitudes or biases that are used to predict actual behaviour," said the spokesman.
The system was tested over the past year with 24 patients from St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin.
Professor Dermot Barnes-Holmes, of Maynooth's Psychology Department, said: "Some of the most difficult behaviours to predict are those that occur very rarely but have large and devastating consequences, such as suicide.
"Ireland is no stranger to the issue of suicide and we have higher rates than the European average, especially among young men."
He pointed out that most research into suicide had largely focused on long-term risk factors to indicate whether someone was vulnerable over many years .
This has concentrated on a range of factors, such as hopelessness, serious health complaints and previous suicidal behaviour.
"The Maynooth project focuses on short-term suicide risk assessment," he explained.
Ian Hussey, another researcher, said: "The task uses tiny reaction-time biases to reveal unconscious attitudes and intentions.
"It can pick up on things that the individual themselves might not be aware of. This makes it ideal to study self-harmful and suicidal behaviour."
• NUI Maynooth is hosting a postgraduate open evening on March 12 for prospective students to research masters, diploma and PhD programmes.