Using tech for better mental health — tackling perinatal depression in women

Dr Gavin Doherty, Associate Professor in Computer Science and Statistics at Trinity, focuses on designing healthcare technology – particularly to support better mental health.

He led a project to develop the SilverCloud platform, used to deliver a range of engaging and effective clinician-supported mental health interventions for conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Delivering evidence-based treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, the platform uses a variety of strategies to make the experience more personal, engaging and supportive. Following spinout of the company, it has been validated in a series of randomised controlled trials, and has come to be used by over 300,000 patients in hundreds of health services worldwide, including over 74% of the NHS in the UK as well as some of the largest payors, health systems and employers across North America.

Another recent project – BrightSelf, carried out in collaboration with Public Health researchers at Imperial College London – tackles the important and complex problem of perinatal depression in women.

It encourages individuals to self-report their wellbeing and provide measures of their mental health via a mobile app, which connects them to midwife and practitioner support when required.

In a recent randomised controlled trial, 355 pregnant women attending 14 NHS midwifery clinics across England provided momentary and retrospective reports of their wellbeing in daily life over a period of nine months. Thirty-nine of these women reported a risk of depression, self-harm or suicide using this technology and received immediate midwife support. Two-thirds of participants who received support in this way had registered no risk of depression according to the standard screening methods employed in-clinic at baseline.

Dr Gavin Doherty said:

Mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing our society, and there is understandably a lot of interest in using technology to increase access to evidence-based treatment. The privacy that technology can afford can also help to overcome stigma, encouraging people to seek help earlier. In order to work, these technologies need to be both engaging to the users, and based on sound clinical evidence.

Our work in this area has been a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with health science and psychology researchers, and provides an example of how interdisciplinary research in computer science can address significant problems with global impact.

Dr Doherty was recently honoured as a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) – the world’s largest and most prestigious association of computing professionals – where he was one of five European researchers recognised for outstanding scientific contribution to computing.

A recent research paper describing the trial of BrightSelf won the overall best paper award from almost 3,000 submissions to CHI 2019, which is the most prestigious venue for human-computer interaction research.

Dr Doherty and other world-leading computer science researchers are congregating in Trinity today to celebrate the half-century anniversary of the discipline at Ireland’s leading university.