'Data is the big hope' for improving mental healthcare

BOSTON—One in four people experience poor mental health during their lifetime, but half don’t even get as far as their primary care provider for treatment. Those figures drive Jen Hyatt, who founded Big White Wall and spoke about her experience at the Connected Health Symposium held by Partners HealthCare.

The stigma of mental illness prevents people from getting treatment, she said. There’s a huge human and financial cost. When her friend killed himself after delays in accessing treatment, Hyatt launched Big White Wall, an anonymous online community of people who are anxious, down or not coping who support and help each other by sharing what’s troubling them, guided by trained professionals.

The website has proved to Hyatt that “the most powerful safety net of all is data.” Data are used to correlate people’s content and experiences with their scores for depression and anxiety. If someone contributes just 20 words, they can project with 90 percent accuracy their score for depression and anxiety. “That enables us to personalize what we offer to that person so it’s appropriate to their situation and needs, and risk strategize to assure those with higher levels of acuity follow the right protocols to get appropriate level of support and treatment," Hyatt said.

Hyatt noted interesting developments happening in mental health such as a voice recognition for depression and facial recognition for anxiety. The combination of natural language processing and facial and voice recognition is “an incredibly powerful set of tools. I’m a huge fan of artificial intelligence.  

“Data for me is the big hope of the future. Let us not be afraid of technology. We need to walk bravely into technology that can provide safety nets and let us live mentally healthier lives.”