Wysa announces mental health collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for Covid-19 Anxiety

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15 min read

Wysa today announced that its award-winning AI behavioral health platform will be used to enhance digital mental health support for COVID-related anxiety at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre (CCHMC), an academic medical center established in 1883 and one of the most distinguished pediatric hospitals in the United States.

“Mental health is turning out to be the silent pandemic, as Covid-19 has brought an incredible amount of stress and anxiety in its wake.  This tsunami of demand will change how healthcare systems think about mental health services, and the role digital strategies need to play.” said John Pestian, PhD, co-lead of the program and one of the world’s top experts in developing natural language processing and machine learning tools to address mental health concerns.

“Young people are especially affected” he added. “isolation, fear about the future, and the prevailing sense of uncertainty all increase feelings of vulnerability. The impact, on our patients and their families as well as the communities we serve, will last for years.”

To help build skills to deal with uncertainty in the current environment and manage anxiety, Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Cincinnati worked in collaboration with Wysa to create a new “COVID Anxiety” program, available on a special CCHMC-Wysa app.

Designed for use by people aged 13 and above, this artificial intelligence (AI)-powered app engages in interactive conversations with users, serving as a digital mental health coach. The tool can help people focus on why they feel anxious about the pandemic and provide recommendations for self-care. It also provides emergency contact numbers. 

“The program aims to help people deal with their anxiety before it becomes severe,” Pestian continued. “There is an increased demand for mental health services, with a surge of up to 25% in requests for new services since the pandemic began. We believe this program addresses an unmet need for direct, convenient engagement when people are experiencing mild anxiety directly related to the stress of living through this challenging time.”

Anxiety includes a number of disorders, such as phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, many of which can be extremely disruptive to a person’s academic success, job, or personal relationships. Overall, an estimated 19% of U.S. adults experienced an anxiety disorder in the past year; and an estimated 31% of U.S. adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

However, in-person counseling for anxiety issues can be hard to obtain.

To help address this gap, Pestian teamed up with Michael Sorter, MD, Director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s, and Jeffrey Strawn, MD, an anxiety expert in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati. They worked with Wysa to develop clinically approved techniques that could be delivered via Wysa’s AI-guided mental health platform.

The result is a COVID Anxiety program, which allows users to talk through their issues with Wysa as its AI guides them through evidence-based techniques and conversations that have been clinically-vetted by professionals and patients. It is a free, anonymous, and 24X7 support resource for anyone dealing with anxiety and stress during this time. The program offers different exercises for coping with COVID-related anxiety and provides visualization, relaxation and other techniques that people can use to reduce the levels of anxiety they feel about stressful situations.

“These self-help techniques are important because anxiety is common among the population, says Sorter. “Unfortunately, anxiety often goes undiagnosed, and by definition, undertreated.”

“We also went to great length to protect user privacy,” said Strawn. “This program is an example of how technology can help people access mental health support easily when they need it.”

During initial testing, early versions of the app were introduced to dozens of patients receiving care at Cincinnati Children’s. These volunteers reported high levels of satisfaction with their experience. 

“We are delighted to support Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in its mission to transform delivery of care through innovation” said Jo Aggarwal, co-founder of Wysa. “The entire program was developed over an intense 5-week period, including clinical assurance from experts at Cincinnati Children’s and validation with patients of program’s ability to improve quality of care. This kind of initiative is an example of how AI platforms like Wysa can enable leaner, faster development cycles in digital health collaborations without compromising clinical rigour.”

Longer-term, this program and can extend mental health services to places and populations that currently have low access, such as rural communities that lack practicing child psychiatrists and low-income populations living in states with weak mental health coverage.

About Wysa

Wysa is an AI-based ‘emotionally intelligent’ chat platform, which combines AI chat and digital self-help with expert human support to its users directly as well as enable insurers, healthcare providers, employers offer large-scale self-management of mental wellness to their members, patients, and employees and a customizable care pathway to more advanced support. With 2 million users across more than 30 countries, Wysa is the top-rated app in the NHS and ORCHA in the UK for stress and anxiety, and also ORCHA’s top app to manage anxiety and support self-care during COVID-19. Wysa responds to the emotions that users express and uses evidence-based cognitive-behavioural techniques (CBT), DBT, meditation, breathing, yoga, motivational interviewing and micro-actions to help build mental resilience skills and feel better.

Media enquiries for Wysa: Saloni Agarwal, [email protected]

About Cincinnati Children’s Hospital & Medical Centre

Cincinnati Children’s, a nonprofit academic medical center established in 1883, is one of the oldest and most distinguished pediatric hospitals in the United States. With a mission of to improve child health and transform delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation, Cincinnati Children’s is ranked No. 3 in the nation among Honor Roll hospitals in the U.S. News and World Report 2020-2021 Best Children’s Hospitals, the top 3 in the US for NIH grants and funding for pediatrics. It has managed 1.3 million patient encounters from 51 countries including the United States, in 2018-19.

Media enquiries for Cincinnati Children’s: Tim Bonfield, [email protected]

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