AI-powered mental health app wins government funding for NHS testing

Updated: Aug 23


Image credit: Christian Wiediger

An app that uses artificial intelligence to help people better manage their mental health will receive government funding as part of an NHS improvement project.


Wysa is a 24/7 anonymous service that helps users manage symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as identify those with severe mental health issues.


The app's primary feature is a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse user input and offer advice and self-help exercises to guide people through their issues.


Since being launched on World Mental Health Day in 2016, Wysa has helped over 3 million users and participated in over 100 million conversations around the world.


The technology has been clinically proven to work, with one study showing that regular users of the app saw a 40% reduction in self-reported symptoms of depression.


Wysa will now receive a share of a £36 million prize given to winners of the AI in Health and Care Award – an NHS project aimed at developing cutting edge technologies that can help improve healthcare services.


“AI has the potential to completely revolutionise every part of how we approach healthcare, from how we diagnose diseases and the speed at which our doctors and nurses deliver treatments to how we support people’s mental health,” said health secretary Matt Hancock who announced the winners at the recent CogX festival.


“Confronted with this global pandemic, our tech sector has risen to the challenge and upended how we do things through innovations to support people to test from home, complete remote consultations and diagnose issues safely.”



Read more: NHS app integrates AI to improve mental health service access

The £36 million in funding is being provided by NHSX and the Accelerated Access Collaborative which are supporting 38 projects in total.

Other winners include an AI capable of detecting lung cancer from X-ray scans, a prostate cancer diagnostic tool, and a software that can detect osteoporosis by analysing CT scans.


The funding is also available for the research and development of early-phase AI technologies that could improve NHS services in the future.


These include a tool to better detect heart attacks from blood samples, home monitoring equipment aimed at preventing sudden dips in the health of people with cystic fibrosis, and AI capable of analysing brain tumour scans to identify patients in need of more extensive monitoring.


"Through our NHS AI Lab we’re now backing a new generation of ground-breaking but practical solutions to some of the biggest challenges in healthcare," said Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England. "Precision cancer diagnosis, accurate surgery, and new ways of offering mental health support are just a few of the promising real world patient benefits. "Because as the NHS comes through the pandemic, rather than a return to old ways, we’re supercharging a more innovative future.


"So today, our message to developers worldwide is clear – the NHS is ready to help you test your innovations and ensure our patients are among the first in the world to benefit from new AI technologies."


To find out more about previous winners of the AI in Health and Care Award, click here.


To try a demo of the Wysa app, click here.


Written by Marco Ricci Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health