Mental Health check app a self-help tool

money-glitz | Eurus Yiu 3 Aug 2020

One's mental health would be able to tell by one's social media sentiment, sleep quality, heart rate, and even voice in the future through an app founded by three students of The University of Hong Kong.

Powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning technology, the mental health app "Hollo" can analyze users' daily behavior patterns and emotional changes that could serve as a psychological counselor.

The founders of Hollo have won the World Champion of the 2020 Imagine Cup. They are also the first winners from Hong Kong since the competition started in 2002.

Cameron van Breda, who studies molecular biology and biotechnology at HKU, has seen how students struggling with mental illness in Hong Kong, where he grows up.

Two years ago, a friend of van Breda committed suicide due to emotional problems. Thus, he wanted to create a new solution to help young people who are emotionally troubled and formed a team with Ajit Krishna and Piyush Jha, who both study computer science at HKU. They founded the company Hollo and van Breda became the chief executive.

The app Hollo is named after the Cantonese phrase "tree hole", with a hope that users can express their feelings towards the app. The user of Hollo just needs to enter a few data supplemented by a few simple questions, while the camera will detect the facial expressions and eye movements and continue to analyze the emotion changes over time.

Van Breda adds that the questions are set based on clinical standards, in which the accuracy of the app detection has reached 86 percent. They are also cooperating with two local non-governmental organization and the HKU Center for Suicide Research and Prevention to collect more data and develop a more mature suicide prevention program.

He hopes that more functions would be added to the program in the future, including the social media sentiment analysis, detection in sleep quality, heart rate, or even voice analysis, without additional hardware.

Van Breda says they have been focusing on the accessibility of the app because they found that a lot of grassroots families don't have that much money to spend on their healthcare. "So, only with the phone, the app can still help to track their healthiness and shorten the time in realizing they may have depression," says van Breda.

He emphasizes the app would be completely free of charge.

But he says the initial funding from Microsoft and Cyberport would be used up this year, so they may plan to make another round of fundraising in March and April next year. Meanwhile, Hollo would also help their collaborating NGOs to do case management by tracking and monitoring the data of their current patients over time in order to maintain the business.

Krishna, one of the developers, continues that a lot of mental health researches are done in the United States, therefore, there are not enough Hong Kong datasets. The team says various organizations have shown their interests in purchasing Hollo's local research data and the analytical results for their further investigation.

Regarding the privacy concern, Krishna promises that the app will only extract the data points, while none of the videos would be stored. Others cannot use those data to trace back the identity of the users, the developer says.

Van Breda adds that the program can be used for initial screening but not to replace the face-to-face psychological consultation. He suggests using the app to track data which can better assist psychotherapists to diagnose patients.

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