Machine Learning Voice Tool Trialled to Help Manage Depression
Green Door Clinic – a specialist mental health clinic based in the Harley Street Medical Area (HSMA) – is trialling a machine learning tool that tracks voice changes in a new way to manage depression.
One problem with managing major depression is that patients and clinicians often lack a robust way to monitor the progression of the illness over time. Large gaps between consultations means it can be difficult for patients to remember or monitor how they have been feeling between each session. Information can be missed out and this problem can be magnified if a patient sees several clinicians.
Affect.AI is a voice-based AI tool that has been developed to address this challenge. The technology – developed by Imperial College Students Woochan Hwang Alice Tang along with data scientist Dr Wun Wong – uses machine learning along with formal assessments made by a clinician to determine changing characteristics of an individual’s voice to monitor changes in that person’s mood over time. It is intended to allow clinicians and patients to use voice recordings made between appointments to monitor mood and in consequence better evaluate their treatment regimens.
The team began trialling the technology with patients in treatment for depression in 2019/2020. Green Door Clinic – which specialises in providing intensive therapy as a more agile alternative to standard weekly therapy sessions – is one of the first clinics in the UK to test it.
Jenny Dew, lead psychotherapist at Green Door Clinic, said: “The director of Green Door clinic Rami Alfalahi has an extensive background in computers, working for several international companies for many years as a technology expert. Technology has always been a passion for him, so having the chance to help combine the worlds of mental health and computer science was an exciting and inspiring opportunity.
“The Green Door Clinic helps provide both patients and therapists to assist in the trialling of the technology. We do this because we believe in innovation and technological improvement in the health industry. Advances in technology to improve the treatment of mental health has been an area without much development for many years. Therefore, when informed of the project by Imperial College, we jumped at the opportunity to assist.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp increase in depression. In the UK, around 1 in 5 (21%) adults experienced some form of depression in early 2021– an increase since November 2020 (19%) and more than double that observed before the coronavirus pandemic (10%). The condition is also more likely to affect younger adults and women.
While the symptoms of depression can be hard to recognise, it’s known that vocal traits such as pitch and volume can act as biomarkers making it possible to detect the severity of the condition. Researchers have been studying these different paraverbal patterns for over a decade, and today the rise of advanced computer analytics has given them a way to quantify this data. Computer algorithms can pick up on differences in tone that a human might miss, and in turn help clinicians track patients over time by comparing the data with their own baselines.
Green Door Clinic specialises in providing personalised mental healthcare using the latest research to inform their treatment planning. The clinic is dedicated to constantly reviewing the latest innovation in neuroscience to maximise patients’ recovery and using a wide variety of therapeutic protocols.