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Teaser, summary, work performed and final results

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SHIM (Shim-Scaling mental well-being through an automated self-help app)


The problemSubstantial attention and resources have during the last decades been put into the population who suffers from clinical mental disorders, such as major depression and anxiety disorders. However, a large group that has more or less been flying under the radar is the...


The problem
Substantial attention and resources have during the last decades been put into the population who suffers from clinical mental disorders, such as major depression and anxiety disorders. However, a large group that has more or less been flying under the radar is the subclinical population, i.e. people suffering from illness, where some criteria are met but not enough to achieve clinical status. The number of people suffering from subclinical symptoms of mental disorders is difficult to calculate. Some researchers believe that the prevalence of subclinical depression is around 30 percentage, which means subclinical mental health issues might be up to six times more common than clinical depression and anxiety. This group of people is often denied treatment, since they do not suffer from a full clinical disorder.

Importance for society
However, if not treated early, there is a high risk the issues might worsen and in the end develop into a full-blown depression or anxiety disorder. By offering these individuals effective and easily accessible treatment early on, society can work in a preventive way as regards mental illness.

Furthermore, looking beyond the clinical and subclinical population, few people feel satisfied with life by only avoiding depression and anxiety. That is why researchers have started to emphasise positive psychology; the branch of psychology focusing on personal growth and well-being beyond the absence of mental illness. Individuals who are functioning in an optimal way — what researchers call flourishing – tend to live longer, have fewer physical health issues and be more productive at work. In addition, it has been shown that people who score highly on flourishing also have the lowest number of health care visits, hospital days and drug consumption. Thus, flourishing can save society enormous amounts of resources, and could be of help to both the subclinical and the healthy population. In a study, 23 European countries were compared with regards to flourishing. The result showed large variations, with the proportion differing from 41 percentage experiencing flourishing in Denmark to less than 10 percentage in Slovakia, Russia and Portugal.

In conclusion, developing effective, scalable and easily accessible self-help interventions to increase mental well-being among the non-clinical population (i.e., both the subclinical and the healthy population) is of great importance for public health around the world. Finding such interventions for this group can both be a way of preventing the development of clinical mental disorders and to help societies to flourish. 

Overall objectives
Shim is an automated conversing self-help app for increasing mental well-being among the non-clinical population (i.e. both the subclinical and the healthy population). Shim combines cognitive behavioural therapeutic techniques with human-like support in a chat interface built on both language patterns matching and keywords spotting technologies. 

The aim of the project was to conduct a feasibility study between June and December 2016, to further guide technical development and exploitation efforts. The scope of this feasibility study included assessments of i) Users; ii) Technology; iii) Market; iiii) Intellectual Property Rights; and iiiii) Third Party Validation and Dissemination. 

Work performed

Performed work
The current project and the feasibility study have helped us taking one more step in validating the business model by proving the high initial engagement level of Shim. Also, it has helped us to define what further technical development and exploitation efforts are needed in the next phase to build an even more engaging product and eventually a business on Shim. 

We have explored product features, which has led to an updated product strategy, as well as a potential new business model. Also, during the scope of this project, we have gained valuable insights about how to update the marketing and sales strategy. 

On the IPR, we have filed for trademark registration in 32 countries, a patent application in Sweden, as well as defined a first iteration of Terms of Service and Privacy Policy — with a plan on how to develop this further. 

Exploitation and dissemination
Lastly, we have engaged with the research community and reached out to investors, which resulted in financial support from some of the most skilled technology entrepreneurs in Sweden. This indicate a proof of excellence. Information about Shim has been communicated via Swedish media, which has helped us define KPIs to track the dissemination impact.

In conclusion, we have demonstrated the product is viable from a market and technical point of view. Further investments will be made to bring the product to the market, which will be initiated in the next project phase. 

Final results

The foundation of Shim is that the app performs human-like conversations. This means Shim can simulate conversations with a real person. The idea behind this is that psychological computer-based programs with support from a real person show higher engagement and adherence. This has been validated in numerous studies on internet-based interventions, both clinical and non-clinical. 

We believe that if this support can be simulated by a computer program, the service can be scalable and distributed at no cost. With technology such as Machine Learning (ML) and Natural Language Processing (NLP), machines can perform humanlike conversations. However, a lot of data is required for this; a service built on ML/NLP needs large amounts of training data to be able to simulate a human conversation. Because of this, small companies have an disadvantage in building services to perform humanlike conversations. Our invention and technology, on the other hand, is based upon the notion that human-like conversations can be performed with no training data. As core of our automated conversation architecture lies pre-defined set of conversations and an ever-growing Mental Map storing of users’ experiences, activities, insights and emotions — basically any mental entity we want to capture, thus enabled to offer several answer possibilities to every user input.

Socio-economic and wider societal impact
The technology, in combination with the content is the novelty of Shim, is what differentiates Shim from other apps. This is also what makes it possible for Shim to be in the unique position of both being highly engaging and rewarding, and at the same time help users enhance well-being.

We have, during this project, showed that Shim is comparable to the top 100 apps in Google Play with regards to engagement. In our best cohort so far, a fifth of the users return to Shim on daily basis over two weeks. These numbers demonstrates we are about to build an engaging product, which also has the mandate to ask about deep psychological aspects and gather unique data. This makes it possible to build technology that helps people act and think in ways that are good for themselves and society as a whole – and increase the chances for the human civilisation to flourish.

Website & more info

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