Bell Let's Talk - AI, machine learning, Text4Mood and apps

How three U of A Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute research teams are working with technology-based diagnostics, interventions and treatments to improve mental health.

30 January 2019

Bell Let's Talk Day has ignited a big conversation about mental health. The annual social media-based awareness campaign has donated more than $93 million since 2011. Everytime someone speaks up, the conversation keeps going to help create support for the millions of Canadians impacted by mental health diseases and disorders such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, substance abuse disorders and more.

Three University of Alberta research teams at the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute (NMHI) are doing their part every day to better understand what is happening in the brain of individuals who live with these conditions. Together, they are working to improve access to stigma-free mental health care and services with technology-based diagnostics, interventions and treatments.

Taking technology to new heights in the diagnosis of schizophrenia
Bo Cao, a U of A psychiatry researcher, is working with his team to use artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to diagnose and treat outcomes of mental disorders. Most recently, he led a research team that used a machine-learning algorithm to examine functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images of both newly diagnosed schizophrenia patients and healthy subjects.

By measuring the connections of a brain region called the superior temporal cortex to other regions of the brain, the algorithm identified patients with schizophrenia with 78 per cent accuracy. It also predicted with 82 per cent accuracy whether or not a patient would respond positively to a specific antipsychotic treatment named risperidone. Check out the full story.

Bringing mental health to the people
In 2016, psychiatrist Vincent Agyapong, worked to develop the Text4Mood study, which eventually evolved into an effective intervention program where text messages based on cognitive behavioural therapy principles and personal coping strategies were sent daily to subscribers to target mood and anxiety symptoms. Read the full story here.

Tending to the emotional aftermath of Fort McMurray post-wildfire, Agyapong has advocated to expand mental-health services in a city that needs them more than ever. His team's recent research found that 31 per cent of Fort McMurray students between grades 7 and 12 who went through the May 2016 wildfire have symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of depression. Read the media coverage.

Getting youth the help they need
One in 10 youth experience anxiety at a level that is diagnosable and requires treatment―an alarming statistic that inspired Amanda (Mandi) Newton, a U of A pediatrics associate professor and Women and Children's Health Research Institute member, to work with Patrick McGrath, Dalhousie University, and their teams to launch the Breathe Study in 2013.

Ashley Radomski, a PhD candidate in the Department of Pediatrics, works on Newton's team. Her research dives deeper into how technology-based interventions for depression and anxiety, such as apps and online programs, work in youth and young adults. Check out her thoughts on using mobile apps to combat mental health issues.

Join the conversation
Today, Bell will donate 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for each of the following interactions, at no extra cost to participants beyond what they would normally pay their service provider for online or phone access:
• Talk: Every mobile call and every long distance call made by Bell wireless and phone customers
• Text: Every text message sent by Bell wireless customers
• Twitter: Every tweet and retweet using #BellLetsTalk, featuring the special Bell Let's Talk emoji, and Bell Let's Talk Day video view at
• Facebook: Every view of the Bell Let's Talk Day video at and use of the Bell Let's Talk frame
• Instagram: Every Bell Let's Talk Day video view at
• Snapchat: Every use of the Bell Let's Talk filter and video view