Sunrise - Helping Mental Health Patients Help Each Other Through Group Chat

For better or worse, technology - social networking in particular - has had a pronounced affect on mental health. Numerous disorders have found new links with platforms like Facebook and Twitter, sufferers of depression have used them to discuss their issues online and they have provided vital research data. Increasingly, the ideas which run beneath social networking are being applied to treatment methods. Sunrise Health are now presenting us with the latest step.

On Monday, Sunrise Health presented themselves at TechCrunch's Disrupt NY Startup Battlefield, unveiling their idea for an app - a group chat therapy centre which patients can use to discuss their issues not only with experts, but with each other.

When people sign up, they have to select the particular mental health disorder (or disorders) that they've been struggling with. This can range from diagnosed, well-documented conditions like PTSD to more abstract, broad categories like grief, worry or self abuse. Once they've been carefully assessed, they're placed into the support group which the experts have deemed best suited to their specific needs.

The assessment is done through a one-on-one chat, followed by a series of forms designed to pinpoint the diagnosis and treatment plan. Once in the group chat, users are anonymous, and abusive messages are kept in check by an AI watchdog designed to look for specific key words. Similarly, anything which suggests the danger of self harm or suicide is upscaled and the call goes out for an emergency response.

The app is open to institutions as well as patients, Sunrise aren't just relying on in-house therapists, they want experts from all over to get involved. Therapists and psychiatrists can refer patients to each other, and the app's data can be used to study how to improve general care techniques, and spot emergent trends relating to specific disorders.

Impressive though that all is, it remains speculative until the app is launched in its final form (it's currently in beta). What's certain is that talking to strangers who are going through similar things is provably helpful, and there isn't really a service like this available online yet, so the odds of a positive return are encouragingly high. A huge number of people, American or otherwise, are languishing beneath the dark cloud of an undiagnosed health condition, and being able to address it without having to physically go to a doctor or therapist could bring a lot of sufferers out into the open.

It will take a lot of testing and tinkering before the service can launch proper, but Sunrise are already armed with letters of intent from several healthcare services and governmental bodies across the US, and they've worked with universities like Brown, Yale and Johns Hopkins. Judging from that crib sheet, it seems like they at least partially know what they're doing. Here's hoping.

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