Panel Discussion on Harnessing Natural Language for Prediction and Prevention (TIPS 2018)

Human communication is at the core of all clinical interactions, especially in psychiatry and psychology, since changes in social function and use of language are often among the first noticeable clues of an emerging psychiatric illness or impending episode. Systems that capture and analyze naturally occurring speech or written language could therefore have transformative potential to aid in low-burden mental health surveillance strategies to support individuals most at risk with both prediction and optimal prevention strategies. This session brings together experts in both computational aspects of natural language processing (NLP), and their deployment in a range of psychiatric illnesses and treatment contexts, including mining electronic medical records for risk stratification, analyzing text-based encounters with a crisis coach to optimize online therapeutic encounters, and predicting individual-level prognosis from open and directed samples of speech and writing.

This panel discussion was part of the 2018 Technology in Psychiatry Summit, an event sponsored by the McLean Institute for Technology in Psychiatry, which occurred November 1-2, 2018 at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts.


Cheryl Corcoran, MD, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School. She is an associate professor of Psychiatry and program leader in Psychosis Risk at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Together with Dr. Guillermo Cecchi of IBM, Dr. Corcoran has identified linguistic predictors of later psychosis onset in youths at clinical risk for psychosis using natural language processing algorithms and machine learning. She now has NIMH funding to study the underlying neural mechanisms of language disturbance across the psychosis spectrum, and to characterize demographic and cognitive correlates of language production.

Guillermo Cecchi, MSc, PhD, is the director of the Computational Psychiatry and Neuroimaging group in the Life Sciences and Health Care Department at IBM. He is also a collaborating member in the Brain-Inspired Computation group in the Artificial Intelligence Foundations Department. Dr. Cecchi has been working on computational approaches to brain function, with an emphasis on mathematical models to describe high dimensional data and to identify markers of complex mental disorders. Recently, he has developed novel approaches to characterize perception and cognition analytically, utilizing the increasing availability of big data on human behavior.

Thomas McCoy, MD, is the director of research at the MGH Center for Quantitative Health and an assistant professor of Medicine and Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He attended Dartmouth College and Cornell Medical School before completing the MGH/McLean psychiatry residency training program, an informatics fellowship in the Center for Experimental Drugs and Diagnostics and serving as chief resident. His research focuses on development of computed phenotypes in, and applicable to, secondary use of healthcare data generated as part of routing care. He has applied computed phenotypes to both prediction and risk stratification, and to genomics research.

Shairi Turner, MD, MPH, completed the Harvard Medicine-Pediatrics Residency Program and received her Master of Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Currently she is the chief medical officer for Crisis Text Line, a not-for-profit volunteer-supported organization delivering crisis interventions using a text platform. Before assuming her CMO role Dr. Turner served as the deputy secretary for Health and the Director of the Office of Minority Health for the Florida Department of Health (DOH), prioritizing work around the intersection between trauma and chronic health conditions. She also served as the first chief medical director in the eleven-year history of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), in which capacity she established the Office of Health Services that provided oversight of the provision of health, mental health, disability and substance addiction services to nearly 100,000 justice-involved youth.

Jeffrey Girard, PhD, is an interdisciplinary researcher working to advance the behavioral sciences. His research into emotion, personality, and psychopathology draws and insights and tools from social science, computer science, and data science. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and is currently a post-doctoral research associate at Carnegie Mellon University.

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