Research Horizons


A Digital Coach For Navigating Troubled Times

With millions of people experiencing anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many are discovering that gaining access to in-person professional help with coping skills can be a challenge.

But now people who download a free smartphone app can have a “4 am friend” to talk to. This new “Covid Anxiety” app was created in a collaboration between experts at Cincinnati Children’s, the University of Cincinnati, and Wysa, a company that provides a digital behavioral health platform used by about 2 million people worldwide.

Co-creators of the Cincinnati Children’s module on the Wysa app are John Pestian, PhD, a leading expert in using natural language processing and machine learning tools to study and address mental health concerns; Michael Sorter, MD, Director, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s; and Jeffrey Strawn, MD, an anxiety expert in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavorial Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati.

The app offers nine self-help exercises for coping with the uncertainties and stresses of life during the pandemic. Users also can converse with an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chat bot.

“The app aims to help people deal with their anxiety before it becomes severe,” Pestian says. “There is an increased demand for mental health services, with a surge of up to 25% in requests for new services since the pandemic began. We believe this app addresses an unmet need for direct, convenient engagement when people are experiencing mild anxiety directly related to the stress of living through this challenging time.”

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The app can be installed on a smartphone from the Google Play Store or Apple App store using the link.