Cambridge is spearheading a groundbreaking project to develop an AI system that could significantly speed up the diagnosis of mental health conditions in children. Led by Dr. Anna Moore, the technology will analyze data collected from various sources to identify patterns that indicate those at the highest risk. This innovative approach has the potential to revolutionize mental health care and draw attention to the urgent need for more resources. By diagnosing conditions earlier, treatment can be more effective, addressing the crisis in mental health care for children, with an estimated 20% of individuals under 24 in need of support.
Dr. Moore, an expert in clinical informatics at the University of Cambridge, believes that a digital solution holds the key. The AI system will leverage cutting-edge technology to analyze information gathered by health, education, and social services throughout a child’s life. By consolidating this data, the system aims to identify trends that can alert clinicians to the early development of mental health conditions. Factors such as bullying, family poverty, physical health problems, and being a young carer can all have a significant impact on a child’s mental health.
A particular focus of this project is to provide support for young carers like Ali, a 16-year-old who cares for his mother and brother with a muscle-wasting condition. Ali himself faces physical health challenges that make attending school difficult. The AI system being developed intends to offer support without young carers having to actively seek it. Dr. Moore highlights that young carers often fail to recognize their own needs, resulting in them slipping through the cracks of the system. The AI algorithms are designed to identify children whose problems may not be immediately apparent, ensuring they are provided with the necessary support.
Ali himself has expressed his support for the project, viewing the use of confidential and anonymized data as an incredible and potentially life-saving idea. Dr. Moore will collaborate with Microsoft to develop the system for use in the NHS and the forthcoming Cambridge Children’s Hospital. The project also involves the Kavli Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Human-Inspired AI to ensure that it proceeds in a manner that benefits patients. All data used to program the algorithms will be anonymized and secure, with personal information replaced by codes. The project aims to address concerns and gain support from families, ensuring that no data is shared with law enforcement or commercial organizations.
Jeremy Bernhaut, head of policy and influencing at Rethink Mental Illness, emphasizes the significance of early intervention for young people struggling with mental health issues. However, the lack of funding and workforce remains a pressing concern, with many young people enduring long waiting lists for support. Dr. Moore hopes that this project will shed light on the need for additional resources and showcase how technology can advance mental health care, similar to its success in treating physical conditions like diabetes and cancer.