DCU start-up recognised as mental health innovator by World Economic Forum

27 May 2022

Image: © hobbitfoot/Stock.adobe.com

Developed at the Insight research centre at DCU, mental health app Opa Mind is one of the winners of the Youth Mental Health Challenge.

Opa Mind, an Irish mental health start-up developed with the help of Dublin City University (DCU) researchers, has been recognised as a top innovator by the World Economic Forum.

Founded in 2020 by Martin Lawlor, Opa Mind is a mobile platform that provides support to individuals through a voice diary feature that aims to reduce stigmas surrounding mental health.

The technology was developed in Insight, the Science Foundation Ireland research centre for data analytics, at DCU. It analyses a user’s voice collected privately and sends back a range of reflective metrics and indicators across emotional states and vocal biomarkers.

It is primarily aimed at people who find it hard to reach out to others when experiencing mental health problems. Instead, people can speak into their own device through a therapeutically designed and informed process.

Opa Mind was named a top innovator in the Youth Mental Health Challenge from the World Economic Forum’s UpLink innovation network.

UpLink is an open innovation digital platform, launched in Davos in 2020, centred around innovation challenges and digital communities dedicated to advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Prof Tomas Ward of DCU and Insight was principal investigator of the team behind Opa Mind’s core API element.

“This recognition by a body such as the World Economic Forum is testament to the real innovation impact that arises when entrepreneurs with vision and clarity of purpose engage with academia through the mechanisms made possible through Science Foundation Ireland,” he said.

“I am proud that the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics has matched Martin and his team’s appetite for risk-taking with a faith in them as entrepreneurs and an ability to produce technology that can actively help Opa on the next stage of their journey.”

Lawlor, who began a collaboration with Insight on developing the platform last year, said that there are “wonderful benefits” of using AI as a tool to tackle mental health problems.

“Opa Mind offers hope to millions of people around the world who because of stigma keep their emotional pressures internalised within and are afraid to verbalise them. The detrimental economic and societal costs are staggering, and we need to help people to break this stigma.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic