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CyberMate online companion helps fight depression in young people

A revolutionary online tool to support young people living with depression or mental health issues is being developed by the University of Sydney.

CyberMate online companion helps fight depression in young people

The team is adapting online tracking techniques used by marketing analysts in their internet-based tool dubbed, CyberMate.

The researchers aim to design algorithms that will give CyberMate the ability to screen a young person’s social networking pages such as Facebook or Twitter  for comments that may indicate potential  for self-harm.  CyberMate would then act as a quasi-psychotherapist and engage with the young online user suggesting options for help or support via email or SMS.

Associate Professor Rafael Calvo, director of the Software Engineering Group at the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, and leader of the three-year project, says data collected from social networking sites can play an important role in helping to identify and understand the needs of young adults.

As the digital world plays an ever increasing role in young people’s lives Professor Calvo says it’s essential that researchers investigate how best to leverage its usage for evidence-based interventions.

Statistics from a recent study of 2000 Australian youths aged between 12 to 25 years revealed more than two-thirds used the Internet to connect with their friends and other young people.

“More importantly almost 40 per cent reported searching for information about a mental health problems, regardless of whether they were the ones experiencing problems,” says Professor Calvo.

“Marketing organisations routinely track users as they navigate the web, and use personal and behavioural data to target advertising.  This project aims to use this and other data to improve mental health interventions.

“Our research requires the creation of new technologies that combine data mining and natural language processing.  We are focussed on combining human-computer interaction techniques and psychotherapy.”

CyberMate will be evaluated by mental health practitioners and researchers based at the University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute before being trialled by 210 young people over a year-long period.

The project has been supported by the Inspire Foundation which has a number of Internet initiatives and continuously explores new ways of reaching its audience. its flagship website is reported to have connected with 1,400,000 Australian youth in 2013 alone.

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