Written by Ryan Johnston
New York City on Tuesday announced the winners of its civic tech competition to improve mental health in underserved neighborhoods, awarding $ 20,000 each to two companies that offer chatbots with AI and digital platforms for health management.
The competition, known as the NYCx Co-Labs Accessible Mental Health Challenge, was a collaboration between the New York City Mayor’s Office’s Chief Technology Officer and the New York Business Development Corporation to find innovations that could improve mental health services in NYC neighborhoods NYC CTO John Paul Farmer told StateScoop, Linwood and Washington Heights, two communities that have historically been underserved by city services.
The two winning solutions – a comic print and a virtual health management system – will be tested in the city during the first half of 2021 with the support of the city authorities, Farmer said.
“The goal is to make sure we get technology where it’s really needed, and not just technology for technology’s sake,” said Farmer.
NextStep HealthTech, a software company developing easy-to-use health platforms, will be testing a virtual health management system that will make it easier for NYC residents to access mental health resources across the city. When residents struggle to access city resources or find new private sector resources online, they often quit before they get the help they need. NextStep HealthTech aims to bridge this online gap between residents and mental health resources, especially as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread.
“The stressors of daily life became more intense with COVID-19 or presented themselves to people who, frankly, had never seen them before,” said Farmer. “When everyone lives and works in confined spaces, when people have health problems, a whole range of new stressors for mental health arise.”
New York City has documented an adolescent mental health crisis in recent years. A task force commissioned by the New York State Assembly in 2017 found that nearly a quarter of Hispanic teenagers in Brooklyn and Staten Island had contemplated suicide. In both districts, the suicide attempt rate increased by 5% from 2016 to 2017. Previous competitions in NYCx and NYCEDC have focused on 5G connectivity, reducing garbage and improving city lighting. According to Farmer, mental health is an issue that residents specifically sought solutions for.
“There’s a proverb in citizen technology that you want to build with, not for,” Farmer said.
The other winner is a comic book company called Me, Myself and I, which publishes a comic book called Heroes Next Door, which tells the story of a Latinx superhero who saves the world while facing his personal mental health Problems. According to the city, kids can use an online bilingual chatbot to take a trip with the superhero, who also provides mental health resources through chat.
The competition also recognized two of the 22 organizations that applied, including Lessonbee, an online K-12 course platform that designed a mental health awareness lesson, and Studio Elsewhere, an organization that promotes “bio-experiential” Technology used – partly virtual and partly in person – to rehabilitate and intervene in people struggling with mental health.