Aston computer scientists develop software that helps prevent suicides

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The Galatean Risk and Safety Tool (GRiST) research programme is a collaboration between Aston University's Computer Science Research Groupand the University of Warwick Medical School. It has been funded by the Government and charities to develop a web-based decision support system for helping manage risks associated with mental health problems.

GRiST is running as a cloud-computing service from Aston University and being used by the National Health Service, private hospitals, and charities. Many hundreds of clinicians have been directly involved in its development and there are now versions across the age range, from child and adolescents through working age adults to older adults.

GRiST uses semantic-web technologies to represent clinical expertise in a hierarchical or tree structure that helps organise and understand people’s risks associated with mental-health problems. The GRiST logo reflects the idea of assessing these risks through the “risk knowledge tree” so that people can be given the most appropriate support for keeping safe. Dr Christopher Buckingham is the principal investigator at Aston University and he is keen to point out that everyone has mental-health problems and nobody should be ashamed of needing help with them: “We all have days when we don’t feel like facing the world, when our mood is very low and nothing seems to be going our way. Sometimes these problems can be very difficult to handle and it is important that there are places we can go for help and support”. GRiST is a web-based decision support system that is used by clinicians to help them assess the problems and associated risks more clearly.

The GRiST research team is also working on a version called my GRiST that people can use at home. It is being funded by the Judi Meadows Memorial Fund and myGRiST for self-assessment will link with a version of GRiST in primary care so that clinicians can provide support and advice for people while they remain in the community. This means that GRiST will span the entire patient care pathway from the community to primary, and secondary mental health care and back to the community. It will also be available for use in other front-line agencies such as the criminal justice system, housing associations, accident and emergency departments, and charities.

There is a large and growing clinical demand for GRiST that has shaped the direction of the research programme. Ongoing and future work focuses on connecting risk assessments and judgments to risk management planning and care packages. There is a good fit between the GRiST risk evaluations and mechanisms in current use for determining the most appropriate care clusters for patients. However these mechanisms are complex and time-consuming and GRiST offers a much simpler, indeed an immediate, way of achieving this linkage. Our research programme is dedicated to improving understanding of how risks arise, how clinicians evaluate them, and how they can be managed, both within mental-health services and the community.