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Seeking New Insights for Teen Mental Health

“In the fall semester of my sophomore year in college, two people in my life took their lives due to mental-health problems,” writes Nam Do (Vietnam, UWC-USA, Brown ’21). A computer science major, he spent much of the next winter looking through online mental-health subforums on Reddit, trying to understand what people there were thinking and how they tried to help each other.

“I vaguely hypothesized that there is a common pattern between many posts on those forums,” he writes. “Those thoughts would be phrased in some very extreme way, such as ‘everyone hates me,’ ‘no one cares about me,’ ‘there’s no point in being alive,’ etc.”

Nam partnered with a fellow Brown student to study the relationship between teenage mental health and absolutist language on social media. He won a Karen T. Romer Undergraduate Teaching and Research Award to support the project, and the researchers presented their results at Brown’s 2019 Summer Research Symposium.

“We’re trying to create a model to detect what absolutist language means,” Nam said in his presentation. “From there, we hopefully will be able to find some correlation between what people identify as absolutist language and suicidal ideation.”

At Brown, Nam also serves as teaching assistant for computer science classes, he’s a peer volunteer to help support students with mental-health concerns, and he has been a trip leader for the university’s Outdoor Leadership Training Program.

“The two values I want to keep in my daily work, for as long as I can,” he concludes, “are learning and contributing.”