Tech Trends

New Uses of AI in Mental Health & Impact on EA

By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP

Science fiction is rapidly becoming reality, as new uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in mental health are being not just developed but implemented. While traditional EAPs and EA clinicians may value in-person face-to-face interactions with clients above all other interventions, advances in technology need to be closely scrutinized, perhaps even adopted, lest we get blindsided by competitors or worse yet rendered irrelevant.

Earlier this year, a LinkedIn Pulse article written by futurist Bernard Marr was published with the breathless title “The Incredible Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Now Used In Mental Health”. With over 32,000 followers, Pulse is a news platform providing daily news about computer software. Marr reports on a variety of websites, apps, and entities on the cutting edge of technology.

World Well-Being Project
The Pulse article introduces the work of The World Well-Being Project (WWBP), which is pioneering scientific techniques for measuring psychological well-being and physical health based on the analysis of language in social media. The Project is based out of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center and Stony Brook University’s Human Language Analysis Lab.
As a collaboration between computer scientists, psychologists, and statisticians, the project sheds new light on the psychosocial processes that affect health and happiness and explores the potential for unobtrusive well-being measures to supplement – and in part replace – expensive survey methods. 

Researchers from the WWBP analyzed social media with an AI algorithm to pick out linguistic cues that might predict depression. It turns out that those suffering from depression express themselves on social media in ways that those dealing with other chronic conditions do not, such as mentions of loneliness and using words such as “feelings,” “I” and “me.”
After analyzing half a million Facebook posts from people who consented to provide their Facebook status updates and medical records, they were able to identify depression-associated language markers. What the researchers found was that linguistic markers could predict depression up to three months before the person receives a formal diagnosis. Other researchers use technology to explore the way facial expressions, enunciation of words and tone and language could indicate suicide risk. 

Ultimately, the scientists at WWBP hope that their insights and analyses will help individuals, organizations, and governments choose actions and policies that are not just in the best economic interest of the people or companies, but which truly improve their well-being. 

AI Resources
In addition to researchers, there are several companies using artificial intelligence to help tackle the lack of available mental health resources:

* Quartet for enterprise’s platform flags possible mental conditions and can refer patients to a provider or a computerized cognitive behavioral therapy program. They directly court corporations, promising that “we use proprietary analytics to identify people with underlying or latent mental health conditions and connect them to care.” Quartet is a medical model all the way, identifying the primary care physician as the coordinator of employee mental health needs. EAPs are never mentioned.

* Ginger’s contribution is a chat application used by employers that provides direct counseling services to employees. Its algorithms analyze the words someone uses and then relies on its training from more than 2 billion behavioral data samples, 45 million chat messages, and 2 million clinical assessments to provide a recommendation. They market themselves directly to employers stating, “Give your employees and their dependents around the globe an end-to-end behavioral healthcare solution that's clinically validated to help them feel better and more productive.” EAPs are never mentioned.

CompanionMx, Inc., is a “digital health technology company with a proven platform (aka app) for proactive mobile mental health monitoring for better clinical outcomes. Born out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and clinically validated at Harvard Medical School teaching hospitals and multiple Veterans Affairs clinics, the Companion™ system uses active monitoring of voice and passive monitoring of other smartphone metadata to continuously produce acoustic and behavioral biomarkers that predict core symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders.”

In essence, the app allows patients being treated with depression, bipolar disorders, and other conditions to create an audio log where they can talk about how they are feeling. The AI system analyzes the recording as well as looks for changes in behavior for proactive mental health monitoring. 

* Bark is a parental control phone tracker app that monitors major messaging and social media platforms to look for signs of cyberbullying, depression, suicidal thoughts and sexting on a child’s phone. Its website trumpets: 
* 3.5 million children protected.
* 16 school shootings prevented.
* 10,000 severe self-harm situations detected.

In the face of these and other innovations, often backed by millions of dollars of VC funds, developed at the most prestigious institutions, slickly marketed to our current or potential client organizations, what’s an EAP to do?

When it Comes to Apps, Don’t Wait!
At this point every EAP, no matter how small, should be using apps as an adjunct to EAP intervention, or as part of assigned “homework.” There is no cost associated with referring a client to an app, many of which are free or cost the client less than $10 a month. Doing so identifies you as a technologically enlightened EAP. Larger EAPs may wish to partner directly with the company behind a specific app, offering a co-branded product.

What apps should you consider? For the past four years, KGA, a technologically progressive EAP company, has vetted well-being apps in order to recommend its top 10 choices for EA professionals. EAPA members can access the Journal of Employee Assistance - Vol. 48 no. 4 - 4th Quarter 2018 article “Top 10 Well-Being Apps for 2018” in the JEA Archive.

Another way to find a vetted app is to use PsyberGuide, a website whose goal is to provide accurate and reliable information about software designed to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety disorders. PsyberGuide is committed to ensuring that this information is available to all, and that it is free of preference, bias, or endorsement. 

Summary
Apps are easy. The more complex challenge is to compete with the Ginger.ios of this world. There are several effective approaches.

First, educate your current and prospective client organizations about what makes employee assistance unique and more than competitive.
Most of the apps and even the platforms we previously discussed before use a one-size-fits-all approach. In this scenario, CBT is the new Kool-Aid and pretty much the only approach used. 
EAPs, on the other hand, conduct comprehensive assessments that deliver customized counseling and/or referrals to the treatment approach and level of care needed by the employee. EAPs follow through and follow up. They are not beholden to just one treatment modality. 

EAPs provide fitness for duty assessments – no one is relegating that delicate and critically important task to AI (as of yet.)
EAPs provide an evaluation of the workplace factors and impact relevant to each case.

Secondly, bigger players may find opportunity in partnering with some of these platforms. My perception is that few of these companies have been approached by EAPs seeking to create a hybrid approach.

Finally, if you are using technology in your EAP work, publicize it, feature it front and center in all of your marketing materials, at sales presentations, and during client company renewal meetings.

Marina London is the Director of Communications for EAPA and author of iWebU, (http://www.iwebu.info,) a weekly blog for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by social media and Internet technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at m.london@eapassn.org.

References and Resources

June 26, 2019. Web Secret 578: New uses of AI in mental health. iWebU.info blog post. http://www.iwebu.info/2019/06/web-secret-578-new-uses-of-ai-in-mental.html 

“The Incredible Ways Artificial Intelligence Is Now Used In Mental Health”. Bernard Marr. LinkedIn Pulse. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/incredible-ways-artificial-intelligence-now-used-mental-bernard-marr/ May 12, 2019

The World Well-Being Project http://wwbp.org/ 

Quartet for enterprise https://www.quartethealth.com/plans/

Ginger https://www.ginger.io/for-employers

CompanionMx, Inc. https://companionmx.com/ 

Bark https://www.bark.us/

“Top 10 Well-Being Apps for 2018”. Kathleen Greer. Journal of Employee Assistance - Vol. 48 no. 4 - 4th Quarter 2018. http://www.eapassn.org/JEAArch

August 9, 2017. Web Secret 479: PsyberGuide. iWebU.info http://www.iwebu.info/2017/08/web-secret-479-psyberguide.html
 

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