Apple's Siri Can Be First Call for Users Thinking of Suicide

Siri has been updated to provide suicide prevention information.

ByABC News
June 19, 2013, 1:40 PM

June 19, 2013 — -- Apple's snarky assistant has been updated with a helpful, serious feature. Siri will now respond to suicidal statements with useful suicide prevention information.

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." Siri then asks if you would like to call the number. If you don't respond for a short period of time, it automatically returns a list of local suicide prevention centers. Click on the results and it will show you them on a map.

Apple declined to comment on the new update when reached by ABC News, but the company started working hand in hand with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline a few months ago.

"They were 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."

Siri is Smarter, But is the Personal Assistant Smart Enough?

In May 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide rates were up in the U.S from 1999 to 2010, the last year for which they have reported stats. The organization found that suicide rates increased 28 percent among those 35 to 64 years old during that period.

Many first reported Siri's responses to death-related statements when the service first debuted in 2011. If you had said "I am going to jump off a bridge and die," the service would previously have returned bridge locations. That has been replaced now with the Lifeline number, though if you say "remind me to kill myself tomorrow" it will still bring up a calendar prompt.

But while many might have said those things to the iPhone's built-in robot in a joking manner, Draper says there is a real need for the new answers and assistance.

"You would be really surprised. There are quite a number of people who say very intimate things to Siri or to computers. People who are very isolated tend to converse with Siri," he explained.

But Draper says even if suicidal individuals don't use the service, the addition makes getting the information about suicide prevention even more accessible to others.

"The main thing is that the number is out there," he said. "Someone might call on behalf of someone else. If you don't know what to do, then you can ask Siri now."