Scientists have developed video games using AI technology to diagnose, monitor and treat depression.
The platform, called Thymia, aims to make depression and other mental health issues as measurable as physical ailments.
Dr Emilia Molimpakis, CEO and co-founder of Thymia, told Sky News: “At the moment the existing system is flawed in many ways, GPs don’t have the time, the existing systems they have are incredibly biased subjective questionnaires and there is no follow-up between appointments.
“Thymia is the first system that offers objectivity and uses multiple types of data to create a truly accurate and robust model of depression.”
The program asks patients to play simple, neuropsychologically grounded video games that are ultimately designed to measure depressive cues.
While playing the games, the software analyzes the patient’s voice, gaze, and micro-expressions along with behavioral measures including reaction times, memory, and error rates.
Thanks to this, patterns indicative of depression are detected, which makes it possible to quickly establish a diagnosis.
Because it’s designed to monitor patients long-term, patients can play games between appointments, helping to determine if treatments are working over time.
Dr Molimpakis said: “What we hope to achieve is to help clinicians get the right diagnosis much faster – currently it takes years, we want to reduce that to weeks – and also help them find the right treatment for every patient.”
Posy Parsons began experiencing symptoms of depression in her mid-twenties.
Currently, the diagnostic tools used to diagnose depression involve patients writing down their feelings, which Ms Parsons struggled with.
Already facing challenges at the time, getting a diagnosis came with its own set of challenges.
She told Sky News: “All the doctor gets is this form and they have no context of what else is going on and all the different complexities of the situation.
“You really feel like it’s this quick snapshot and then they judge and have huge potential consequences for your life based on that.”
She says being able to see objective measures of depression “would help her recognize that it’s a real thing” – and help her keep track of her own mental well-being.
Thymia collected data from more than 2,000 patients with major depression and healthy individuals to train their AI models, with clinical trials beginning later this year.
But there are questions about whether the technology will have the desired effect, with some saying the root of the problem must be the primary focus.
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Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Lucy Johnstone told Sky News: “It’s fair to say that we’re not very good at picking up, understanding or supporting people who are feeling depressed.
“I’m just not sure that’s the answer.
“A quick checklist won’t tell you much, but neither will sitting through some random video game staring at you.
“Actually, I think as a psychologist we need to know more about why people feel the way they are.
“We actually know a lot about the life circumstances that lead people to become depressed.
“We actually need a human being to sit down and ask you about these events in your life, that’s actually what’s going to help us understand people better.”