Prevention is better than cure — a phrase health specialists all around the world use. However, while researchers are busy finding cures to major diseases, mental health care, especially that of children, is receiving more attention and seeing innovation, including mixing technology with health sciences.
Mevoked is San Francisco-based startup that tracks children's online activity and delivers regular wellness reports to parents. It provides insight into children's state of mind, helping parents to spot risky behavior that might otherwise remain hidden.
"Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of health care, and especially youth mental health, [which] is extremely neglected," said Arun Ravi, the founder and CEO of Mevoked, in a conversation with VentureBeat. "We're trying to use big data for actual insight."
Additionally, Arun thinks it is good parenting and that a Chrome extension can tell quite a lot about a kid's mental health.
"We can look at early indicators of depression, obsession with violence, [and] risk of suicide based on online activity," he said. "We're trying to intervene before that happens and empower parents to act."
According to Eric Blattberg of VentureBeat, Mevoked plans to release apps for Twitter, Facebook, and mobile devices in the next few months. It's not too focused on the individual pieces of content children are looking at or posting about but rather it's interested in usage patterns.
It has a machine-learning aspect, too. Much like Netflix comes to know your taste in movies as you use the service, Mevoked will develop a better understanding of each kid as it gathers vast stores of data on everything they do online. Parents can actively contribute to that process, flagging content that seems inaccurate or irrelevant in a Mevoked report.
"Once we develop a normal level, it's easy to see what's up or down," said Arun.
A kid putting up with Mevoked without a fight is one potentially problematic assumption. While some younger children might not even realize what Mevoked is or how to turn it off, it's difficult to envision most teens being thrilled with it. A staff psychologist at the Children's Health Council in Palo Alto and a Mevoked adviser, Pablo Ferrer, thinks it's essential that parents include their kids as part of the discussion when they're setting up Mevoked. He suggested that if a child isn't comfortable sharing a certain type of information, one should consider not collecting it.
"Building as much flexibility into the tool as possible is going to be absolutely essential to the long-term vision," Pablo told VentureBeat. "Have some limits, definitely, but you need to give your kids some space, because the more power that we can give kids in this process, the less likely they are to get around it."
In October, Mevoked launched its beta service. It's a supplemental tool for an age where kids may prefer to vent about their day or their bully with online communities rather than with their parents.
"Technology, as wonderful as it is, has created a generational gap where there's a lot more cracks for kids to fall into," Pablo said. "So we're trying to create some trip wires, if you will, to demonstrate to parents when that's happening."
"It's really important to have a human being in front of you to share those key moments of pain or joy with you. A computer can't do that. I hope we can help parents identify some of the moments when they need to be doing that," he concluded.