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The power of technology: A Dal‑created app is in the works to provide mental health support
A new digital app created in a Dal lab will provide vital mental health support to individuals struggling to find help in more conventional ways through overburdened healthcare systems.
Recilify, an app created by Dalhousie University's Persuasive Computing Lab, uses a mixture of artificial intelligence and machine-learning techniques to translate journal entries and contextual data into personalized, evidence-based recommendations.
Dr. Rita Orji, a professor at the Faculty of Computer Science and the director of the Persuasive lab, says the free app can detect a user’s current emotional state and causative factors, offering specific solutions to help with mental health issues, including stress and trauma.
“People provide journals about how they’re feeling, and then we apply artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches on this data about the user to understand their emotions at a particular point,” explains Dr. Orji. “Using this information, the app is able to make recommendations, offer supports or interventions that would help them better manage the current state they’re in.”
The team behind the scenes
Dr. Orji and her team has been perfecting the app for four years now.
Oladapo Oyebode, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Computer Science and member of the team, focuses his research on applying artificial intelligence and behavior-change strategies to create personalized and emotion-adaptive systems to improve mental wellbeing, specifically resilience building. This interest landed him the responsibility of conducting the research, including building machine learning models and developing Recilify.
Sanjit Jeevanand, a master’s student at the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur and Mitacs intern, worked with Oyebode in developing the app.
“The app collects data about a person’s daily life and situations through journal entries,” says Oyebode. “From this data, the app determines their current emotional state(s) and which interventions will improve their mood and resilience level so they can cope well or adapt to the situations.”
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While there are similar apps on the market currently, Reclifiy goes beyond the ordinary by using data that personalizes each user’s experience. Rather than feeling random, the personal approach is meant to feel like you’re talking to someone who knows you well, complementing doctors or clinicians.
“Similar to a doctor, the app is going to make recommendations and aim to provide a solution while ensuring people’s privacy is maintained,” says Dr. Orji. “As you keep using the app, this app gets to know you well as an individual and over time provides more fine-grained recommendations for the user.”
Making technology a solution for mental wellbeing
After a dedicated journey of extensive research and development, the team is now approaching the finish line. The app is currently in beta testing.
This app is in line with Persuasive Computing Lab’s core mission: using technology to solve real-world problems and help people live better lives.
“A recent study emerged from the Canadian Mental Health Association, and they believe the country is in a mental-health crisis,” says Dr. Orji. “There is evidence that we need a different solution to help people get mental health support and services, we thought what better way to do that than to design an app that anyone can access.”
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