About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

The problem

Referrals to Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have doubled since 2012 and The Scottish Youth Parliament has described mental health issues as "their generations epidemic." A lack of relevant information and services that help young people early, as well as a fear of stigma, is driving a growth in serious mental health issues among young people, while existing mental health services are over-stretched and unable to cope.

An AI solution

A partnership between tech company Voxsio, NHS Forth Valley and groups of young people from Stirlingshire, has developed an AI-powered chatbot called Allichat for young people to discuss mental health issues. Allichat delivers information through the form of conversation using a combination of Natural Language Understanding and Machine Learning AI. The former is AI software that allows users to interact with a computer using speech and written text, while the latter allows the programme to learn from its own actions and improve its performance as well as learn patterns. Allichat helps young people to start a conversation about their mental health and can personalise advice and help individuals better understand their own issues. Voxio’s aim is to provide a safe place for young people to talk about their mental health using an approach that normalises mental health, helping young people to deal with issues as they arise and before the need for professional support, reducing the downstream demand for mental health services.

The Allichat app has been through initial user testing and Voxsio is currently working with a conversational designer to improve the tone of the conversations and developing new COVID-relevant content. Being part of AI for Good programme is helping to raise the profile of Allichat and make those important connections. One of Voxio’s challenges is how to make an app for young people that is AI driven, user friendly and engaging enough to be used regularly but most importantly ethical. Being part of the AI for Good programme will assist Voxsio in exploring this challenge by drawing on other people’s experience and expertise.

Michael McTernan, chief executive of Voxsio and project leader, said "Most young people don't talk about difficulties when they arise. The fear of stigma and the lack of relevant information are just two of the barriers that young people face. Allichat can create personalised conversations with young people, available on their phone, to help them understand their mental health and how it affects them. Using AI creates a unique experience which helps young people improve their well being, builds their resilience, and gives them the tools to deal with issues as they arise.”

This project is led by Michael McTernan, chief executive of Voxsio in partnership with Stirling Council and NHS Forth Valley with support from Wayra UK and CivTech Scotland. The project has received funding from Nesta in Scotland’s AI for Good programme.