Expanding Mental Health Research: Ulster Voice Biomarker Study Launched

One of the most robust voice biomarker studies ever conducted has been launched at Ulster University using Canary Speech’s patented technology. This notable study will analyze the presence and severity of depression and anxiety using vocal samples. 

Leading the study is PhD researcher Philip Donaghy. Philip has a master’s degree in personalized medicine from Ulster where he studied genetic biomarkers. His interest in biomarkers led him to mental health research: “Not a lot of people know this, but there are no biomarkers for mental health disorders. There’s no test, no scan, no blood sample we can take and say, yes, this person has depression.” 

The primary goal of this study is to understand the accuracy of AI technology in identifying mental health conditions with voice data. 

The study 

Participants were recruited from Ulster University, partner organizations, and the general public through social media advertisements. This trial is exclusively studying young people 16-24 years of age in Northern Ireland and the wider UK. The researchers hoped to make the study reflective of the realities of mental health in young people, posing no restrictions on participation other than age. 

The recruitment phase of the study is complete and participation has been overwhelmingly positive. “It [mental health] is very topical right now and a lot of people want to feel that they are contributing towards research,” shares Philip. The trial began in February 2023 and has maintained a high retention rate so far. Participants are asked to complete an assessment once weekly during the 12-week trial. The assessment includes providing a vocal sample as well as completing three industry-standard mental health questionnaires. All vocal samples and questionnaires are de-identified and fully confidential. The study concludes in May, and we hope to see resultant publications in the Fall. 

The future of mental health research 

This seminal study will support further research for voice biomarker technology. AI is becoming increasingly integral to mental health resources. Understanding how it can integrate into hospitals, clinics, and our daily lives will help ensure quality of care and life for anyone who needs these resources. 

Objective measurement of mental health conditions has been impracticable until now, but Canary Speech’s technology models voice as a vital sign. Voice biomarkers are not modeled on the content of speech, and not even on the emotionality of what is being said, but rather through complex coordination activities in the body including over 100 muscles in the lungs, throat, and mouth. Voice biomarkers clarify conditions through data and provide the objective results that healthcare professionals use as a tool to provide better care. 

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