– Mental illness among young people is a challenge. There are many initiatives in schools, health care and civil society that are trying to meet the increased need. But the challenges are many: large geographical distances in sparsely populated areas, competence maintenance and high demand on the health care services. In addition, some people can experience the lack of anonymity in contact with health care as an obstacle due to the stigmatization that still exists around mental illness, says Catrine Kostenius, professor of health science at Luleå University of Technology.
To meet the neeeds, a new interdisciplinary research and development project, ChatPal, will start this autumn. Luleå University of Technology's researchers in health science, human work sciences and machine learning will use artificial intelligence, AI, to promote young people's mental health. Norrbotten's Municipalities and the Norrbotten County Council are also included.
Researchers will, among other things, develop a chatbot service, a ChatPal, which provides young people with conversational support.
New way for early support
– ChatPal can provide early support to young people who are in need of talking to someone. It does not replace existing healthcare services, but complements them. One hope is to reduce the number of young people who might become patients. We know that early intervention is very important for young people who are at risk for mental illness and this is a way to provide that. If you receive signals about serious ill health via ChatPal, this should be quickly forwarded within the healthcare system. Safety is essential, says Catrine Kostenius.
Marcus Liwicki, professor of machine learning at Luleå University of Technology, explains that the technology in ChatPal will be flexible and intuitive, as it simulates everyday conversations between people.
– We hope this will be a very good example of how applied AI benefits Sweden and the regiom. I see the challenges that exist in northern Sweden, for example with long distances, as a driving force for innovations. We have a test bed environment here that makes it possible to quickly try new solutions and then scale them up, says Marcus Liwicki.
Health care employees will be involved
Karolina Parding, professor of human work sciences, will lead the Swedish part of the project. She emphasizes that the chatbot needs to be developed together with healthcare professionals.
– It is very important that welfare professionals who will work with new technology in their everyday lives participate in designing it, she says.
The researchers believes that new technology, new working methods and services are an important part of meeting the great challenges facing Swedish society, where the number of children, young people and the elderly is increasing – but not those of working age at the same rate.
Karolina Parding also notes that high workloads and high sick leave rates are a reality in parts of health care.
– If AI is used properly, huge opportunities will open up, she says.