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A new social network aims to help ex-service men


I read a study recently that explored the role of work in tackling depression amongst employees.  Whilst it’s easy to believe that the stress involved in our work can often contribute to depression more than help, the study actually found that engaging the social networks we’ve developed at work can help ease our depression.

Can the same support be offered virtually as well as physically?  That’s the hope of a new social network that is aiming to provide support and camaraderie to ex-service men and women.  POS REP is designed specifically for military personnel who have recently (or not so recently) left service.

Statistics from the Pentagon show that the biggest cause of death amongst servicemen was not in fact war itself, but suicide.  So a service that helps people find support and guidance could be a crucial weapon in this fight.

POS REP uses military terminology to help soldiers try and make sense of civilian life.  For instance, the ‘radar’ section helps users to locate other veterans living near them, or they can ‘pop a flare’ to notify others of their own location.

The app comes with its own discussion forum, called SitRep, where users can join in an array of discussions about life on civvy street.  There is also a gamification element to the app, with users able to earn badges by providing support to fellow veterans via the site.

Of course, this isn’t the first attempt to use social networking to help reduce suicide rates.  Last year DARPA launched a new project to try and understand, and indeed predict suicide amongst veterans.

The Durkheim Project uses machine learning tools to help predict the likelihood of an individual committing suicide in real time.

The system has been collecting data for the past two years in an attempt to train up the predictive models to a level whereby now it is possible to accurately assess risk of suicide 65% of the time.

Central to the data collected is social data.  Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are all on board, so the system can analyse what soldiers and veterans are sharing on their social networks and try to gauge their mental health.

The flipside unfortunately is that the project is purely at the research stage at the moment.  If the team find an individual they believe is at risk, they are not authorized to act.  The hope is however that once the model has proved its worth it can act as the frontline in managing the mental health of both soldiers and veterans, allowing doctors to monitor risk in real time.

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