Research, Technology & Innovation
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Better Mental Health in Real Time
Entrepreneurs ADELA TIMMONS, MATTHEW AHLE
Company COLLIGA APPS
Florida International University psychologist and assistant professor Adela Timmons and software developer Matthew Ahle believe they have a way to turn smart phones into monitors that would summon just-in-time digital mental health interventions for youth in distress.
Timmons researched the possibilities while a graduate student at the University of Southern California. Funded by a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship, she examined whether smart phones could provide data about how a relationship is functioning. She then went beyond relationships to the larger question of whether smart phone data could predict someone’s psychological state and prompt an intervention. She won an NSF Innovation Corps grant and then a $2.9-million, five-year grant in 2020 from the National Institute of Mental Health to the Miami company she runs with Ahle, Colliga Apps.
They founded Colliga in 2018. It has two patents pending. The software, Ahle says, is being fine-tuned, and they plan to run the research with the help of FIU’s Center for Children and Families. A clinical trial is anticipated in 2024.
The Colliga app would run in the background on Fitbits and Apple watches, gathering data on heart rate and speech — how fast and loud one talks can indicate stress. Predictive software would push out in real-time a meditation exercise or other behavioral treatment as preventive care.
Colliga is still very much a startup. The duo envision Colliga being a platform for researchers to speed development of inexpensive app-based therapy and wellness tools. A second market would be psychologists who would enroll their patients so that they can be provided with timely help. A third market would be the general public accessing tools, such as for improving sleep or reducing stress.
The hope is that the system with its low cost will open access and good mental health to more people, including the lowincome, underserved or home-bound.
“Our current health care system doesn’t scale very well in terms of the number of therapists needed to meet the needs of the population,” Timmons says. “We’re using technology to get mental health care into the hands of more people. That’s our central mission.”
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