Vector Institute, Kids Help Phone team up to expand use of AI in mental health services

Kids Help Phone
Kids Help Phone said AI will help its staff adapt to the way young people speak.

Canadian mental health services provider Kids Help Phone (KHP) is partnering with Toronto-based Vector Institute to expand its use of artificial intelligence (AI) in its service delivery.

Using natural language processing (NLP), KHP will continue to adapt its aggregated youth mental health dataset to the way young people speak, allowing frontline staff to offer more precise services to young people based on their words, phrases, and speech patterns, and route young people to available and appropriate service channels.

“The current youth mental health crisis cannot be addressed without embracing modern technology.”

KHP claims it has the largest anonymous and aggregated youth mental health dataset in Canada. Using the Vector Institute’s expertise in safe AI and equity, KHP said it will build testing frameworks that include manual validation from clinical staff to ensure its AI models are accurate, unbiased, fair and explainable.

KHP said AI will help reduce barriers to accessing e-mental health support through further development in triaging, navigating, and empowering young people to find what they need in its service system.

Founded in 1989, KHP began as a telephone counselling service to provide free, accessible support to any young person reaching out from across Canada.

KHP has expanded the capabilities of its services since its inception. According to the organization, it has used AI since 2018 to support its frontline staff, starting with the launch of its AI-powered triaging via text messages. This tool ensures “high-risk” people who reach out via phone can be connected with KPH’s volunteer crisis responders in seconds.

“Young people’s needs are changing quickly and they’re using technology in their everyday lives to solve challenges, including ones related to their mental health and wellness,” said Dr. Valerie Taylor, psychiatry department head at the University of Calgary and head of mental health at Calgary Zone.

“The current youth mental health crisis cannot be addressed without embracing modern technology and meeting young people where they are,” added Dr. Taylor, who’s also a board member at KHP.

RELATED: Vector Institute, Ontario Centre of Innovation secure combined $77-million provincial funding

There have been varying approaches to how organizations are using AI tools in the delivery of their services, including those that raise ethical concerns.

In the United States, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) decided to take its AI chatbot offline after it provided harmful dieting advice. This also follows NEDA workers’ decision to unionize, with the organization’s executives moving to end the helpline after a 20-year operation.

The Vector Institute has positioned itself as a trusted voice within the AI community when it comes to its responsible development and deployment. The Ontario government announced in late June that it is providing a combined $77-million investment into the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence and the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI) to fund programming that aims to advance the province’s tech sector.

The Vector Institute, a Toronto-based independent non-profit focused on AI research, will use the funding to continue helping companies connect with Vector’s AI engineers, researchers, and AI professionals to “accelerate the safe and responsible adoption of ethical AI.”

Featured image courtesy Kids Help Phone.

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz

Charlize Alcaraz is a staff writer for BetaKit.

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