Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled chatbot Wysa raises $5.5M to broaden access to mental health support

Wysa’s AI-Guided Mental Health Platform Closes $5.5M Series A to Bridge the Gap in Employee Mental Health (press release):

“Wysa, the leading global AI-powered mental health platform, today, during Mental Health Awareness Month, announced a $5.5M Series A financing round led by W Health Ventures, a Boston-based digital health investor. Others participating in the round include the Google Assistant Investment program, and existing investors pi Ventures and Kae Capital. Wysa will use this capital to support its offering to employers who want to expand their mental health benefits, as well as scale up Wysa’s sales team and therapist network.

“We are impressed with Wysa’s uncompromising clinical safety and unparalleled patient-centricity. It maintains a near-perfect rating from approximately 100,000 reviews resulting from over 100 million conversations,” said Dr. Pankaj Jethwani, Executive Vice President at W Health Ventures. “As we enter the second year of the pandemic, so many people are struggling and seeking mental health support. Wysa is an example of how technology is helping millions of people access everyday mental health support and self-care tools without being gated by a clinical diagnosis.” … Wysa is anonymous, secure, available 24/7 and, most importantly, effective. People open up to Wysa in just a few messages, and complete cognitive restructuring (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness and coaching exercises in just five to ten minutes. Over 90% of users say Wysa helps them feel better after just one session, and over 75% of users have more than five sessions.

Recent study on AI-bots for mental healthcare:

Evidence of Human-Level Bonds Established With a Digital Conversational Agent: Cross-sectional, Retrospective Observational Study (JMIR Formative Research). From the Abstract:

  • Background: There are far more patients in mental distress than there is time available for mental health professionals to support them. Although digital tools may help mitigate this issue, critics have suggested that technological solutions that lack human empathy will prevent a bond or therapeutic alliance from being formed, thereby narrowing these solutions’ efficacy.
  • Objective: We aimed to investigate whether users of a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)–based conversational agent would report therapeutic bond levels that are similar to those in literature about other CBT modalities, including face-to-face therapy, group CBT, and other digital interventions that do not use a conversational agent.
  • Conclusions: Although bonds are often presumed to be the exclusive domain of human therapeutic relationships, our findings challenge the notion that digital therapeutics are incapable of establishing a therapeutic bond with users. Future research might investigate the role of bonds as mediators of clinical outcomes, since boosting the engagement and efficacy of digital therapeutics could have major public health benefits.

News in Context:

  • Consumer Reports finds unclear, questionable privacy practices and policies among popular mental health apps
  • Teladoc Health, having acquired Livongo and myStrength, launches integrated mental health service for the workplace
  • Digital mental health start-up Koa Health raises €30M to accelerate growth in Europe and the US
  • A call to action: We need the right incentives to guide ethical innovation in neurotech and healthcare
  • The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) shares discussion paper to help empower 8 billion minds

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How to address privacy, ethical and regulatory issues: Examples in cognitive enhancement, depression and ADHD from SharpBrains

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