@Work | Tools

Meet Mr. Young: A chatbot with your mental health at heart

This AI-powered tool from a Montreal start-up is helping organizations gauge employee morale in three simple steps

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Business man using smart phone, while is waiting in a lobby of a buildingMr. Young assesses employees’ mental wellness in three steps and then helps them determine what could be triggering their stress and recommends solutions from a wide range of resources (Shutterstock/GaudiLab)

Every week, 500,000 Canadians are unable to go to work due to a mental health issue or illness. In fact, a 2016 report by the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that psychological-related problems cost the Canadian economy around $51 billion per year—$20 billion of which is the result of work-related issues. 

In 2016, Montreal start-up Mr. Young decided to help businesses mitigate this issue. It designed a chatbot of the same name that assesses employees’ mental wellness in three steps. Mr. Young then helps employees determine what could be triggering their stress and recommends solutions from a wide range of resources.

“The entire process starts from there,” explains Edouard Ferron-Mallett, one of Mr. Young’s three co-founders. “There’s an abundance of mental health and wellness resources. The question is: Where to begin and how do we make them available to the general public?”

HELPING TO HEAL THE WORKPLACE

To meet the challenge, the Canadian start-up worked with clinical, industrial and specialized psychologists as well as researchers and numerous experts to create a knowledge supercluster. Mr. Young works like any other chatbot: it already has hundreds of answers to the questions you may be asking yourself, or that you might ask it, in its database. The AI tool takes care of the rest.

“Our chatbot may suggest that you see a psychologist or a mental-health professional, and then provide their contact information,” says Ferron-Mallett. “It may also recommend a support group, or advise you to call a helpline. Sometimes, people just need someone to talk to. It all depends on the screening results.”

If your stress is mild, the chatbot will recommend meditation exercises, a healthier lifestyle or writing in a journal. It may also refer you to Woebot, a bot designed by Stanford School of Medicine psychologists, which uses cognitive behavioural therapy to treat anxiety and depression. Mr. Young might also suggest you contact your human resources department or your organization’s health and safety representative.

“With Mr. Young, managers can gauge the mood within their teams and see what’s working and what isn’t,” says Ferron-Mallett. “Our goal is to help organizations be better employers. Our chatbot takes their structure and resources into consideration, without turning everything upside down.” [See Starting today, make your employees’ mental health a priority]

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF MR. YOUNG 

Competition is fierce in this field, but the use of chatbots to help manage stress seems to be a promising market. Tess, one of the first mental-health chatbots, now has four million paid users, whose access fees may be covered by employers. For its part, Mr. Young has a unique advantage: it’s the only chatbot of its kind that can interact in both English and French.

So how does it work?

“To start, we install a standard version for a restricted group of users, to see how to effectively integrate the chatbot into the organization,” explains Ferron-Mallett. “In particular, we want to know which platform [such as Slack or Teams] would work best. At this stage, we check what the employee assistance program includes, or if group insurance covers consultations with a psychologist, so Mr. Young can take this into account in its interactions.”

Once this is done, linguists or writers can help further customize the chatbot, to make conversations with users more consistent with the organization’s image. Management doesn’t have access to the conversations between users and the chatbot—these are confidential—but they receive an analytics dashboard on the situation. This anonymized insight lets them put measures in place, such as workshops or exercises, for sectors that need support. They can then follow up on the issue over several months to see if it persists.

RECOGNIZING STRESS

According to a 2016 report by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, only 23 per cent of workers are open to talking to their employers about their mental health. And yet, 47 per cent of Canadians cite work as the most stressful part of their daily life, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Aside from accessing professional help through an employer’s assistance program, connecting with colleagues can also be an important aspect of destressing (See Are you guilty of masking your emotions in the workplace?). Employees can also try Great-West Life’s virtual wellness program, which includes videos to support stress reduction and deep relaxation.