Seeking new innovation opportunities in mental health using AI

Since launching the AI for Accessibility program in 2018, our disability and accessibility partners have demonstrated how AI can empower people with disabilities with tools that support independence and productivity. Looking forward, we recognize the opportunity to spark new research in AI and machine learning to fundamentally change the ways people and organizations use technology to better understand mental health conditions, and provide services that empower those with mental health conditions to realize their potential.

That’s why this month, the AI for Accessibility program is calling for project proposals that aim to accelerate mental health research, data insights, and innovations using AI. This program offers grants through data science skills, Azure compute credits, and cash to help innovators design and build the future of AI-driven, accessible and inclusive technology. Universities, non-profits, startups, and other organizations are encouraged to submit an application for projects related to mental health by March 13, 2020.

Mental health lies on a spectrum. It spans from general well-being, which the World Health Organization describes as when “an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, [and] can work productively…” to diagnosed mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, or substance use and addictive disorders. While the adverse effects of technology on a person’s well-being are often associated with excessive usage of mobile phones and addictive engagement models on social media platforms, there is enormous potential to maximize the benefits of technology, while still considering the cautionary outcomes.

In 2017, it was estimated that 792 million people—or slightly more than one in 10 people globally—had a diagnosable mental health condition, and it is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Communities in developing countries often lack access to mental health workers, where the number of mental health workers can be 1 in 100,000 for some low-income countries. Given the amount of people impacted, we want to explore with you what role technology should play.

Today, technology offers a variety of methods to support a person who is in a mental health crisis or looking to prevent one, such as habit tracking or cognitive remediation apps, online peer support groups, phone helplines, app-based chats with mental health professionals, or tools that support wellbeing across an organization. Each person’s experience with mental health is unique and we want to invest in the next generation of personalized tools and services to improve our global community’s approach to mental health.

While we are not funding projects that diagnose mental health conditions, we are interested in awarding grants to projects that improve tools for managing mental health conditions, projects that mature data and models with a consideration for bias, and projects with a diverse set of researchers to show the potential for AI to help create more equitable access and cultural competency around mental health.

As our disability community grows, our expectations for technology evolves, too. We are looking for teams who are firmly rooted in the communities they intend to benefit, and want to accelerate ideas that are developed by or with people with disabilities, not just for us. This is not about diagnosing a condition or “fixing” a person; this is about real people using real tools to leverage their own data to make more informed decisions. Mental health impacts our global community and we want you to be a part of shaping the future of mental health and AI. 

Please review the Microsoft AI for Accessibility Request for Proposals and consider applying before March 13, 2020.