A game-changing application of artificial intelligence (AI) is set to help doctors make earlier diagnoses of mental health problems in children and potentially change the course of their lives.
It can be hard to identify long-term mental health conditions at a young age, as symptoms can present as a child not doing well at school, struggling with friendships or changes in behaviour. Having mental health problems in childhood can make a lasting impact into adulthood, on health, wellbeing, employment and relationships.
Now, a new research programme will see if it’s possible to use powerful computer programmes to spot patterns in huge datasets, in order to recognise early signs and risks of children developing a serious mental health problem. AI will be deployed to scour datasets containing health-related information on children aged 0-17 and will look for common elements.
The ambition of the programme is to ensure patients can access help at a younger age. This will make a real difference to lives of many young people and could lead to shorter episodes of care, less intrusive intervention and better mental health outcomes.
The research programme led by Cambridge child psychiatrist Dr Anna Moore, has received £295,000 funding from the Alan Turing Institute, the national institute for data science and artificial intelligence.
Anna said: “We are at the beginning of this exciting programme, gathering as much data as possible to take into account the whole child. This includes a wide range of information such as adverse childhood experiences, school attendance and attainment, risk concerns and other patterns of using support services.
“Children who have access to early help can see the severity of their mental health condition reduced and it also leads to better education and social outcomes for young people, as well as their families.”
The research programme aims to have an AI model at the end of 2022 to test in a clinical research setting.
Bringing together mental health and research, alongside physical health, is the ambition of Cambridge Children’s Hospital. The NHS and the University of Cambridge project is a globally unique partnership which brings together unrivalled clinical and academic knowledge. The hospital will revolutionise how we detect and treat illness and will treat the whole child in a more personal and holistic way. To read more about our vision, visit the Cambridge Children’s Hospital website.