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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), in the US ,has announced the Neural Evidence Aggregation Tool (NEAT) programme, in a bid to develop a new cognitive science tool focusing on mental health.

The move seeks to more accurately identify active-duty soldiers, and veterans, who are at risk of committing suicide.

Current methodologies, which include self-reporting and screening questionnaires, cannot predict suicidality.

The new tool will leverage preconscious brain signals to identify people at risk of suicide.

DARPA Defence Sciences Office programme manager, and former Army surgeon, Greg Witkop said: “NEAT is a proof-of-concept effort attempting to develop a new tool for mental and behavioural health screening that moves us beyond historical and current methods of questions and consciously filtered responses.

“Using the preconscious will hopefully enable us to detect signs of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation earlier, and more reliably, than ever before.

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“If successful, NEAT will not only significantly augment behavioural health screening, but it could also serve as a new way to assess ultimate treatment efficacy, since patients will often tell their clinicians what they think the clinician wants to hear, rather than how they are truly feeling.”

The NEAT programme will include two technical areas.

In the first area, the programme will focus on research and development, and will involve teams from cognitive science, bioengineering, and machine learning to address key technical challenges in developing NEAT processes.

The other area will involve independent validation and verification.

The 3.5-year programme carries a 24-month proof of concept phase, and a subsequent 18-month operational setting phase.

Earlier this year, DARPA selected teams for the ENVision programme.