The AI technology uses a short voice sample to help therapists diagnose kids who may be suffering in silence.

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ATLANTA — An Atlanta startup is on a mission to improve mental health for kids, using artificial intelligence to detect those who may be suffering in silence.

The new resource couldn’t come at a better time, according to Ciara Green, who runs Family Ties, Inc. The group provides counseling services to around 6,000 families a year in Georgia, including services in more than 90 schools.

“We’re dealing with a lot of anxiety, conduct disorders, depression,” Green told 11Alive. “What we’ve seen, especially since the pandemic started, is a lot more of high intensity diagnoses.”

Green and Jerome Dyson, director of clinical operations at Family Ties, believes much of what their clinicians are seeing is the effect of kids being so isolated during the pandemic.

“You saw an uptick in domestic violence,” Dyson said. “You saw an uptick in child abuse. You saw an uptick in neglect.”

But as therapists work with students, finding out which kids are at risk can be complicated.

“Diagnosing, quantifying problems, especially with children, is complicated,” Dr. Yared Alemu, founder of TQ Intelligence, explained. “Even under the best circumstances, kids don’t tell you what’s going on.”

Dr. Alemu, a trained psychologist, launched the startup to address the lack of data infrastructure in mental healthcare for low-resourced communities. His team’s new digital health platform, Clarity AI, aims to support in-school clinicians and therapists in Georgia to better reach vulnerable kids.

The technology, which Family Ties will help pilot, relies on the use of voice biomarkers, employing a unique voice-based algorithm to identify high-risk patients.

The basic idea is that a child reads a story while a therapist records a short voice sample. The file, collected through the Clarity AI app, is then analyzed by AI in real time, giving the therapist feedback on registered emotions and course of treatment.

“We actually use the structure of the voice and these nuances and idiosyncratic changes,” Dr. Alemu explained. “How an adolescent speaks to be able to detect, not only if there is a problem, but how severe is the problem.”

“As soon as they click submit, we’ll get them feedback,” he added.

Such data not only gives therapists a baseline for patients but could either verify the clinician’s diagnosis or alternately, lead to a differing approach.

“We may have perceived notions on what we heard,” Dyson said. “But now we know we have this algorithm in the background…and it will give us additional information.”

In a time when attrition is an industry issue and clinicians are stretched thin, Green said the platform can also streamline a therapist’s workload through the app’s ability to take notes and track a child’s progress.

“Burnout is higher, obviously, in our sector, and this is going to help that as well because all of it being these algorithms and this voice analytics, they’re going to basically go into a note to help our clinicians write their note,” Green said. “So it’s amazing.”

Green confirmed clinicians on her team have been trained on the new technology with plans to implement the AI app as early as next week in districts like Fulton County Schools and Atlanta Public Schools.

“We’re already listening and now it’s like you have a big brother,” Dyson said, “That will verify our thoughts and beliefs or may take us somewhere else and say ‘I didn’t think about that.'”