• Mental health
  • Facebook’s using AI to prevent suicides

    According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a suicide occurs every 40 seconds globally.  Social, psychological, cultural and other factors can interact to lead a person to suicidal behavior.  Facebook believes that they are uniquely positioned to help combat suicides amongst adolescents and its users.

    They’re using AI and smart algorithms to detect suicidal tendencies and patterns.  The AI software scans users’ messages and posts for signs of suicide, such as asking someone if they are troubled.  Facebook already has tools in place for people to report concerns about friend's who may be considering self-harm, but the new AI software can speed the process and even detect signs people may overlook. 

    Posts that are flagged as worrisome are communicated to first-responders.  It’s also dedicating more human moderators to suicide prevention, training them to deal with the cases 24/7. They have partnered with organisations like Save.org, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Forefront from to provide resources to at-risk users and their networks. 

    Ubiquitous technologies often come with unrealised responsibilities.  Facebook’s demonstrating they're willing to take on these responsibilities and use their platform for greater social and health benefits.

  • eHealth for mental health needs more intelligence

    Cinderella never thought that her success would attach her name to parts of healthcare. Countries’ mental health service is one of them, and its eHealth investment is being held back too. A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) sets out to explain why. It investigated individual characteristics that influence both preferences and intentions to use eHealth for mental health in Australia. It identifies factors that might inhibit or enable eHealth.

    It found low reported preferences for eHealth for mental health services. Despite this, intentions to access these services are higher. This raises the challenge of how to translate these intentions into activities that use eHealth services. It found that strategies designed to enhance confidence and familiarity and ease people into new Internet-based mental health service programs may be important for increasing the chances of sustainable use. But, will users return to eHealth later? 

    It’s a worthy goal, but the study found that most respondents, almost 86%, prefer face-to-face services. The scope to engage eHealth users was found to be up to 40%. It’s a significant user base that needs supporting.

    Acfee identifies several factors that needed in eHealth to secure benefits. They include:

    Stakeholder engagementMeeting users’ information requirementsEasy to useHigh level of utilisation. 

    Putting these in place for the 40% will increase the chances of sustainable use and benefits realisation. For Africa, with its limited healthcare resource base, supporting up 40% mental health patients with eHealth access offers a valuable way to expand mental health services at minimal cost. It’s an opportunity. It’s not easy to achieve.

  • iExhale mental health app raises US$1.86m

    Based in Los Angeles, iExhale, is an online mental health company. It’s, raised US$1.86 m in funds led by Dorilton Capital. iExhale developed an iOS app for people to exchange messages with licensed therapists. The company plans to use the funds to scale its initaitive and take the platform nationally. People can use the app to share personal information anonymously or offer support to others in iExhale’s social network.

    An article in the MobiHealthNews says iExhale’s currently available in California, offering its services to people aged 14 and above. The app aims to improve access to affordable, convenient mental health services. It’s similar to other mobile mental health services like Talkspace.

    The comapany has two key foundational factors to their mission. One is a considerable lack of practicing psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers throughout the country. The other’s an increasing willingness of patients to embrace telemedicine. It also belives that many people with no prior exposure to therapy may feel more comfortable when starting their treatment with a virtual visit rather than in person.

    iExhale’s benefit is that it’s a safe, non-judgemental environment where users feel supported and understood while life-affirming change is being encouraged. It provides profiles of all online therapists, which allows searches based on experience, area of expertise and special certifications too.

    When  people download the app, there’s a 48 hour window, known as Meet A Therapist,. Here, they can browse and meet therapists before booking sessions. This service’s also available to minors without parental consent because their questions are general, with large packages of therapy involved. When an underage client books a session, they must provide proof of legal consent, so parents or legal guardians are involved.

    After the 48-hour trial period, sessions cost US $64.99 for 45 minutes, nearly US$1.45 a minute. No subscription’s needed. If users don’t want to book sessions, they can log in to browse iExhale’s anonymous social support network, either selecting the “How Are You Feeling?” feature to express how they feel through writing, pre-loaded pictures or specific emotions. They can also offer support to others in a safe environment. Since there is no free-form commenting or direct user-to-user messaging, and the images and emoticons are pre-loaded, the company believes there is a less of a chance of bullying or teasing.

    This app is currently only availbale on iOS, although an Android version is in development. Depression is the leading cause of disability throughout the world and is especially prevalent among low-income African countries, where 75% of the people who suffer from mental illness do not have easy access to the mental health care they need. On average, developing countries only allocate 0.5% of their health expenditures to mental health, compared to more than 5% for high-income countries, says an article in Rand Corporation.

    WHO has said armed conflicts, genocide, violence, famine and displacement in Africa cause significant challenges to mental health. Rates of mental disorders often double after emergencies. While the iExhale app does offer greater access to people in these regions, the cost, the reliance on Internet connection and accessibility to smart phones are all obstacles.

  • Bolivia has mHealth for mental health

    With its 2015 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranked by the World Bank as 95 out of 195, Bolivia’s not a rich country. It’s a bit richer that Cote d’Ivoire and Cameroon, and a bit poorer than the Democratic Republic of Conge (DRC) and Ghana. This relatively low income state hasn’t prevented it from assigning a priority to mHealth in mental health.

    A study in ISRCTN starts from the proposition that depression is one of the most common mental disorders worldwide. It’s very common in low- and middle-income countries, but often untreated due to a shortage of mental healthcare resources, including trained professionals. Hence, mHealth’s part of the solution. The study tested the feasibility of a service using automated cell-phone calls to monitor patients’ depressive symptoms and give brief self-care advice. Patients were depressed adults receiving care from a clinic affiliated with Universidad Catolica Boliviana and El Servicio Departmental de Salud (SEDES) in La Paz and El Alto, Bolivia. Three types of patients were excluded from the study, patients with:

    Life-threatening health problems, such as cancer, with less than a six-month life expectancySignificant memory problemsSevere mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

    The USA’s University of Michigan School of Public Health financed the study.

    All 50 participants received up to 14 weeks of automated, interactive, structured weekly telephone calls that assess current depressive symptoms and provided brief educational messages about how to manage their condition. Each call lasts about 10-15 minutes. At the end of the 14 week study, the amount of calls participants took is noted and participant satisfaction is measured through a telephone interview.

    Results from the multi-centred non-randomised interventional trial were that participants benefit from recorded advice about depression management during calls and feedback about any changes in their depressive symptoms. Patients’ touch-tone responses provide feedback about changes in their depression severity in response to their brief pre-recorded, tailored advice for self-management. Alerts based on changes in symptoms are monitored by research staff and sent to patients’ primary care teams. Follow-up surveys are administered following program completion, either in-person or over the telephone. There’s a small risk that talking about mental health and other personal topics may distress some participants.

    Outcome measures are:

    Call completion rate, measured using system-tracked numbers of completed weekly calls out of the total number of active call-weeksParticipant satisfaction with the programme measured at 14 weeks using open-ended questions, such as what did you like best about your experience, and close-ended questions such as  Likert-scale ratings of overall satisfaction with the programme and the likelihood of recommending it to a friendDepressive symptoms are measured using the Personal Health Questionnaire (PHQ-8) at baseline and during each call.

    With Africa’s mental health in an equivalent state of under-resourcing, Bolivia’s experience offers an option for Africa’s health systems. It should find a place in mHealth Investment plans.