UAlbany, SUNY Downstate Explore AI’s Role in Mental Health Care
Courtesy of the University at Albany
The University at Albany and SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University are partnering to explore the use of artificial intelligence and deep learning technology to better understand mental health disorders, aid in earlier diagnosis and treatment, and improve mental health outcomes globally.
The Global Center for AI in Mental Health, formed in collaboration with the Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx), will explore ways to use AI and other deep technology to advance early detection of mental health conditions, track patients’ progress and monitor them after medical intervention — helping alleviate shortages of in-person professional care where resources are currently scarce.
Leveraging the power of AI to enhance understanding of mental health disorders will inform earlier interventions, provide better care and be a valuable resource for research and development efforts.
The center will take advantage of UAlbany’s infrastructure and expertise in AI as well as public health, psychology, social welfare, engineering, nanotechnology and community-engaged participatory research, alongside SUNY Downstate’s extensive clinical and translational research expertise working with a diverse and underserved patient population.
A Global Partnership
The Health Innovation Exchange supports national ministries of health in Africa and Asia to identify challenges in scaling access to quality health care. Mental health has been identified by several countries as the biggest health and development challenge. Inadequate systems, capacities and human resources remain a barrier to delivering mental health-related support, with 85 percent of those with mental illness in low-income countries receiving no support at all.
HIEx will work closely with countries to deploy new tools leveraging AI to scale diagnosis, treatment and support for mental health in a culturally sensitive way, and address the stigma, discrimination and human rights violations that often accompany mental health disorders.
“This is exactly the role that public universities should be playing in pioneering the responsible application of new technologies to help alleviate suffering,” said UAlbany Vice President for Research and Economic Development Thenkurussi “Kesh” Kesavadas. “UAlbany’s AI Plus initiative is focused on incorporating AI across our existing research strengths, and we are proud to partner with our colleagues at SUNY Downstate and HIEx to innovate ways to better support and treat those coping with mental health disorders in the parts of the world where the need is greatest.”
“This partnership among SUNY Downstate, UAlbany and the Health Innovation Exchange represents a commitment to substantive global advancements in mental health care through research aimed at addressing critical gaps for early diagnosis and intervention, appropriate care and post-intervention follow-up,” said SUNY Downstate Senior Vice President for Research David Christini. “Identifying and treating mental health and wellness has grown increasingly important as our global society faces challenges that dominate everyday living. We are excited to redouble our mental health research efforts and see tremendous potential in utilizing AI to advance diagnosis and treatment.”
UAlbany, SUNY Downstate and HIEx formalized the partnership in May on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.
Addressing Critical Gaps in Care
“We have seen a 25 percent increase in mental disorders in recent years and a serious dearth in care delivery capacity and workforce,” said HIEx Chief Technology Officer Biju Jacob. “Economic downturns, disasters, health emergencies and growing climate crisis push significant numbers of people into mental disorders, and today one in four people we meet in our daily lives face mental illness at some point of their life. We need a radical shift in mental health care delivery, as the current approach has failed to address this silent pandemic. That shift is possible only through digital technologies and AI-based community-centric care. This partnership is particularly aimed at creating a technology framework and backbone to quickly translate cutting-edge technologies to practice.”
While physical diseases and injuries can be diagnosed with vital signs and lab tests, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders is far more challenging — especially in parts of the world where conventional resources are scarce.
With the help of increasingly sophisticated and accurate deep learning technology, AI can be trained on data to very efficiently and reliably discover patterns and reveal new ways to diagnose and treat diseases.
The center would use state-of-the-art tools in conjunction with well-developed research strategies, including expertise from local community members and international stakeholders, to reduce the incidence of mental health disorders and improve the care and well-being of those living with these conditions.
To start, the Center’s work would focus on four main areas:
- Advocating for and facilitating increased mental health screening and implementing evidence-based interventions for prevention, treatment and to reduce stigma
- Developing new AI tools and technologies to recognize behavioral patterns in individuals and communities to aid early detection of and care for mental health disorders
- Properly training and testing AI to recommend specific interventions and monitor patient progress. These tools, along with immersive tech such as AR/VR, could be customized at low cost in countries with different languages, customs and health care systems to fill critical gaps in care and help the United Nations address mental illness globally.
- Using AI and deep tech to complete evaluation analysis to improve evidence-based public health interventions and leverage resources available among the partner institutions to secure funding from federal agencies, industry partners and charitable foundations to advance best practices for patient care and monitoring.
AI Plus at UAlbany
The center’s launch comes amid the launch of AI Plus, UAlbany’s holistic approach to integrating teaching and learning about AI across all its academic and research programs to ensure every graduate is prepared to live and work in a world radically changed by technology.
Through AI Plus, UAlbany is incorporating foundational and applied concepts of AI into innovative new curricula; facilitating groundbreaking AI-powered research in disciplines such as climate science, semiconductor design, anthropology, cybersecurity and health data analytics; and partnering with leading hardware manufacturers to serve as a test bed for the latest AI technologies.
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