Randomized controlled trial of an online machine learning-driven risk assessment and intervention platform for increasing the use of crisis services.

Objective: Mental illness is a leading cause of disease burden; however, many barriers prevent people from seeking mental health services. Technological innovations may improve our ability to reach underserved populations by overcoming many existing barriers. We evaluated a brief, automated risk assessment and intervention platform designed to increase the use of crisis resources provided to those online and in crisis. Method: Participants, users of the digital mental health app Koko, were randomly assigned to treatment or control conditions upon accessing the app and were included in the study after their posts were identified by machine learning classifiers as signaling a current mental health crisis. Participants in the treatment condition received a brief Barrier Reduction Intervention (BRI) designed to increase the use of crisis service referrals provided on the app. Participants were followed up several hours later to assess the use of crisis services. Results: Only about one quarter of participants in a crisis (21.8%) reported being “very likely” to use clinical referrals provided to them, with the most commonly endorsed barriers being they “just want to chat” or their “thoughts are too intense.” Among participants providing follow-up data (41.3%), receipt of the BRI was associated with a 23% increase in the use of crisis services. Conclusion: These findings suggest that a brief, automated BRI can be efficacious on digital platforms, even among individuals experiencing acute psychological distress. The potential to increase help seeking and service utilization with such procedures holds promise for those in need of psychiatric services. Trial Registration: clinicaltrials.gov identifier: NCT03633825. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)