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10 Uses of Artificial Intelligence in Mental Health

Mental illnesses affect 15.5% of the global population. They’re the leading cause of disability-adjusted life years, accounting for 37% of healthy years lost from non-communicable diseases. Even worse, mental health conditions are on the rise, with some estimates putting the costs to the global economy up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030 if global healthcare systems can’t tackle the problem. More than half of all mental illnesses remain untreated, leading to worsening mental conditions, chronic physical health problems, job stability issues, homelessness, trauma, and suicide.

Understaffed and underfunded healthcare systems are unable to cope with this mental health crisis, and that’s where technology can help alleviate the burden of mental illness on society by helping clinicians diagnose and treat mental conditions while giving patients tools to better manage their conditions on a daily basis. We previously looked at startups providing computerized cognitive behavioral therapy to the masses, and and now we’ll explore how some companies are using applied AI to assist people with mental health issues.

Name Application City Funding
(USD millions)
Quartet Big Data New York, New York 92
Lyra Big Data Burlingame, California 83.1
meQuilibrium Enterprise Resilience Boston, Massachusetts 29.5
Ginger.io Big Data San Francisco, California 28.2
Neurotrack Memory Loss Diagnosis Redwood City, California 26.1
Cognoa Children’s Psych, Autism Palo Alto, California 20.4
Bark Children’s Psych Atlanta, Georgia 10.9
Woebot Labs Chatbot San Francisco, California 8
Spring Health Personalized Treatment New York, New York 8
BioBeats Stress Management London, UK 6.6

 

Click for company websiteWe first came across Quartet a few years ago in our article on a “Big Data Boon for Mental Health Services.” Founded in 2014, this New York startup has taken in $92 million in funding to try and identify mental illness based on a patient’s physical condition. Many undiagnosed people suffering from mental health conditions end up seeking treatment in emergency rooms or with primary care physicians, and Quartet’s platform identifies and flags potential mental conditions. (Surprisingly, people with mental health conditions are 6X more likely to visit the ER compared to the general population.)

Once a condition has been successfully diagnosed, the system can then refer patients to a provider in the company’s network or recommend a computerized cognitive behavioral therapy program. Quartet promises an up to 25% decrease in ER visits and acute inpatient stays and an up to 20% decrease in medical specialist utilization by breaking down the treatment siloes between physical and mental health. Patients attest to a quick and efficient referral mechanism and rapid results thanks to being connected with the right mental health specialists. The more data that’s generated, the better the system gets at accurately identifying mental conditions.

Founded in 2015, Burlingame, California startup Lyra has raised an additional $45 million since we last came across them in our aforementioned article on big data for mental health which brings their total funding to $83.1 million. Similarly to Quartet, Lyra uses technology and data to connect companies and employees with mental health providers, therapies, and coaching programs that work. It’s personalized mental health care that uses machine learning algorithms to find the best care programs including therapy, coaching programs, and self-care apps. Lyra works with healthcare providers on coverage, and employers on comprehensive packages for their workforce. Customers of the platform include eBay, Lyft, and Uber.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2010, Boston, Massachusetts startup meQuilibrium has raised $29.5 million to develop an online platform that boosts the resilience of employers’ workforce. (Employee resilience is a new term HR has invented to give them something to do.) Combining behavioral psychology with big data analytics, the startup’s tools use clinically validated employee engagement assessments and behavioral change techniques to build a better performing organization. The company claims that using the platform can result in 35% of your employees being less cynical about their work, and overall, makes employees half as likely to quit. meQuilibrium also offers techniques to empower leaders (whatever that means) as well as predictive and real-time psychological analytics on the whole organization. For example, if your CEO is thinking about smoking a joint on a podcast, you’ll be warned days before it happens.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2011, San Francisco startup Ginger also came across our radar before, and has raised $28.2 million to develop direct counseling services through a chat application that can be accessed instantaneously by members. The platform analyzes the words patients use to ask for help to better understand their situation and recommend the best approach to emotional health coaches on the other end of the line. Ginger’s algorithms are taught by more than 2 billion behavioral data samples, 2 million clinical assessments, and 45 million chat messages to come up with the right recommendation for any situation. The chat app is geared towards employers with comprehensive subscription packages for their workforce, and promises 70% of users will experience improvements in their conditions within 8-12 weeks. Customers of Ginger include BuzzFeed, Pinterest, and Sephora.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2012, Redwood City, California startup Neurotrack has raised $26.1 million from large VC investors including Khosla Ventures and Founders Fund to develop a technology for the diagnosis and prevention of memory loss caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s. Since we looked at the company in 2016, it has secured an additional $15.7 million in funding, and has concluded a successful clinical study on patients who were at risk of dementia. Neurotrack’s five-minute Imprint Memory Assessment has patients looking at different pictures, and tracks eye movement to come up with an overall memory assessment.

Neurotrack's method promises significant results in patients with memory loss conditions like Alzheimer's or dementia

Neurotrack’s method promises significant results in patients with memory loss conditions – Credit: Neurotrack

Based on the result, it recommends exercises and lifestyle changes to keep patients’ memory in shape. Users can take the test every three to six months to track overall progress and compare their baseline statistics to people of a similar age. Clinical studies show an overall improvement of 25% for people using the method with an 83% improvement in executive functions and a 150% improvement in the processing of new information.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2014, Silicon Valley startup Cognoa has raised $20.4 million to develop a tool that assesses childhood development and highlights developmental delays and autism. “Powered by AI,” the startup’s developmental assessment was created in partnership with Harvard and Stanford’s medical schools over the course of five years and is applicable to children aged one to eight. Clinical studies show the diagnostic tool is significantly more accurate than standard practice screeners in the same age range. Besides the assessment, the company offers clinical advisory services, activities that enhance childhood development, and recommends clinical and medical support when needed. Parent testimonials highlight the variety of activities available to help children in need and the supportive community of parents who face similar problems. Cognoa is available to parents via employer healthcare plans like Cambia Health Solutions.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2015, Atlanta, Georgia startup Bark Technologies has raised $10.9 million to develop a parental control phone tracker app using machine learning. Bark monitors all the major messaging and social media platforms on a child’s phone for signs of issues like cyberbullying, sexting, depression, and suicidal thoughts. When the app finds a red flag, it alerts parents and also provides expert recommendations on how to diffuse the problem.

Bark's parental control application is very efficient in discovering issues of mental health in a school environment

Bark’s parental control application is very efficient in a school environment – Credit: Bark Technologies

For example, in the case of cyberbullying, Bark recommends parental reassurance of love and support, encouraging the child to ignore the attack, and not to take away computer privileges. (Or the kid can just learn how to cope with it which will come in handy later in life when they get an office job.) Bark claims it has prevented 16 school shootings and 10 thousand severe self-harm situations and parent testimonials praise its ability to “monitor without snooping” as the app protects children’s privacy and only flags threats. The service costs $9 per month per family, and the startup offers its email monitoring services to entire schools for free.

Click for company webisteFounded in 2017, San Francisco startup Woebot Labs has raised $8 million to build an AI-powered chatbot that delivers cognitive behavioral therapy to users. Founded by clinical psychologists from Stanford, Woebot helps people think through tough situations with the help of step-by-step guidance, tracks users’ mood, and provides more than 150 evidence-based lessons, exercises, and stories from the startup’s clinical team.

Woebot's efficacy based on self-administered mental health diagnostic questionnaire scores

Woebot’s efficacy based on self-administered diagnostic questionnaire scores – Credit: Woebot Labs

Dedicated clinical trials show that these techniques help people with anxiety and depression not only cope with their conditions, but get better over time. The app is currently free for personal use and by subscription for employers based on number of users or number of engagements.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2016, New Yawk startup Spring Health has raised $8 million to develop a service that diagnoses patients and matches them with an appropriate therapist. Spring Health’s service is provided through employer healthcare plans and allows for the early detection of many common mental conditions including attention deficits, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Predictive models identify the most appropriate treatment, and Spring Health directs patients to the right therapist in its provider network in 1.7 days on average.

Spring Health's mental treatment matching process

Spring Health’s treatment matching process – Credit: Spring Health

The team has researched precision psychiatry extensively, publishing 24 peer-reviewed articles in renowned journals like The Lancet and The American Journal of Psychiatry. The startup promises 2X higher treatment success rates and seven weeks shorter recovery times for users of its service on average. Clients include Gap – whose employees could use some help right about now –  and MongoDB, a leading IT database provider. According to the company, employee mental health costs are rising twice as fast as all other medical expenses. That’s something our next startup plans to address as well.

Click for company websiteFounded in 2012, London, UK startup BioBeats has raised $6.6 million to develop an “AI-powered” stress management app called Biobase. The app centers around an eight-week course that coaches users how to use stress reduction techniques like mindfulness, managing me-time, and work-life balance. The platform uses exercises, audio sessions, surveys to solicit feedback, and also requires regular user check-ins. Over time, it draws up a dashboard on the user’s stress patterns, habits, symptoms, and can recommend a personalized plan that helps the user cope with stress as effectively as possible.

Biobeats' stress management application supporting mental health

Credit: BioBeats

A wearable armband provides statistics on body functions like sleep, heart rate, and activity to complete the picture. BioBeats has conducted a number of successful clinical trials and is available through certain employer health plans.

Conclusion

Looking at this list, we see eight out of the ten companies listed here are selling services to corporate employers which is unsurprising, considering employee mental health costs are rising twice as fast as all other medical expenses. It does seem a bit odd that some of these companies just assume that people with mental health conditions will start spilling the beans to some chatbot about intimate details such as mental health conditions, but given that lots of people already do that on social media these days, maybe times are changing. It also seems like some of these startups could probably function just fine without the whole “AI-powered” thing, but that’s not for us to say. Regardless of how much machine learning is being used in any of these instances, technology seems to be solving problems. And that’s always a good thing.

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