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Online mental health support groups get new assistant

30 March 2016
Researchers develop tool to help moderators of online mental health chat services

Moderator Assistant, a new electronic tool designed to increase the efficiency of online mental health chat services for young people seeking help for mental health issues has been launched.

“Young people go to numerous online mental health forums looking for help but some sites don’t have a moderator that can direct a young visitor to a place that will help them quickly.”
Professor Rafael Calvo

The online tool was designed by electrical and information engineers working in the Positive Computing Lab at the University of Sydney and developed with youth mental health service provider ReachOut.com and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre. 

Professor Rafael Calvo, positive computing expert at the University of Sydney and lead researcher for the project said:

“Young people go to numerous online mental health forums looking for help but some sites don’t have a moderator that can direct a young visitor to a place that will help them quickly.”

Research has shown 44 per cent of people aged between 16 and 25 years regularly use the internet to find health information, with almost half of this group using the internet to find information on mental health, alcohol or substance use problems.

Three years in the making, Moderator Assistant was developed to provide support to mental health professionals and moderators working on these sites, and to help them provide timely and appropriate assistance to these youngsters.

“Moderator Assistant uses natural language processing techniques to highlight key information that automatically classifies and prioritises high-risk posts for moderators of online sites.

“A behind-the-scenes chat function also allows moderators to collaborate on appropriate responses,” says Professor Calvo.

Calvo’s team developed the new tool in collaboration with forum moderators who highlighted the need to respond effectively to messages, while also drawing on their life experiences to create targeted and tailored support.

ReachOut Australia CEO Jono Nicholas said: “Peer Support Forums are a vital part of ReachOut.com. By playing a triage role on our forums, Moderator Assistant gives peer moderators more time to consider the unique situation of the young person and to work together to provide a more personal, empathetic response.”

One of ReachOut’s peer moderators, a 22-year-old from Melbourne known on the forum as Safari93, said Moderator Assistant makes moderation easier: "Before the triage tool, it was much harder to find posts that needed responding to quickly, and they'd sometimes get buried under newer posts, so having the triage helps keep track of more urgent posts and also of posts that have been managed by another moderator.”

“The classifiers help us quickly see what the key issues are and what needs to be taken into consideration when replying. We are also able to highlight when the classifier did not get it quite right, and the system learns from that and gets better at finding problem posts,” added Peer Moderator Safari93.

 

Victoria Hollick

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