Ieso Digital Health, a leading firm in the delivery of internet-enabled cognitive behavioural therapy (ie-CBT) has launched an initiative called Eight Billion Minds, a digital therapeutics programme aiming to address global and regional shortages of mental health practitioners.

Using deep learning and natural language processing, Eight Billion Minds’ artificial intelligence (AI) quantifies and analyses intervention-outcome associations to see which aspects of psychotherapy are the most effective.

This information will be used to create more effective digital therapeutics tools for mental health patients, and to improve the engagement and efficacy of traditional therapy.

Eight Billion Minds is built on real-world clinical data from ThinkWell, Iesco’s ie-CBT platform.

ThinkWell enables ie-CBT to be delivered in real-time, anywhere in the world, by qualified therapists through real-time instant messaging. Over 200,000 hours of therapy have been conducted through the ThinkWell platform, which employs around 650 therapists.

Ieso Digital Health chief science and strategy officer Dr Andy Blackwell said: “We are launching Eight Billion Minds to catalyse development of a radical new generation of therapeutic solutions for mental health. Using deep learning and our unique data asset we have already made great advances in understanding what works in therapy, right down to individual words.

“Eight Billion Minds is using the latest technology to encapsulate this in a form that is scalable for distribution globally and removes barriers that are associated with mental healthcare today. We are building the next generation of mental healthcare.”

The global shortage of mental health professionals means that mental health problems often can’t be treated through traditional in-person talking therapies. Half of all countries have four or fewer psychiatrists for every 100,000 residents, and in low-income countries this drops to as low as 0.1 for every 100,000.

The shortage is having an impact in more developed countries too; the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reported that 65% of non-metropolitan US counties do not have any psychiatrists, and 475 do not have any psychologists.

Blackwell said: “With the widespread adoption of consumer technology and substantial advances in mental health science we now have an unprecedented opportunity to take the fight to mental illness globally.”

A study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry using 90,000 hours of Ieso’s ie-CBT transcripts found that when therapists focused on CBT behaviour change methods, patients were more likely to show an improvement in their symptoms. Patients were less likely to improve when session had an increased quantity of ‘non-therapy’ content, such as small talk.