Adolescence was tough enough when we were kids. Today’s young people are growing up during what a White House Briefing Room fact sheet describes as “an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages.” The fact sheet cites pandemic-related interruptions in routines and relationships as a threat to adolescent well-being and academic progress. Students today trail five months behind in math and four months in reading compared with student performance before COVID-19. Even before the coronavirus put the world on pause, the fact sheet references a study that found a 40% increase in 2019 in the number of high school students reporting lasting feelings of hopelessness or sadness compared to 2009. The number of adolescent girls who visited hospital emergency departments because of suicide attempts increased 51% in the same decade.

Smartphone New York-based recently announced that The Journal of Medical Internet Research accepted two Kai research papers for publication. Kai develops AI-driven technology for adolescent mental health and well-being care. The papers report the results of studies of adolescents who used the Kai mobile app and with messaging apps including iMessage, WhatsApp, Discord, and Telegram on smartphones. The researchers used the World Health Organization Well-Being index (WHO-5) to assess well-being in both studies. The smartphone app research was a longitudinal study that monitored 10,387adolescents’ engagement and interactions for four months. The texting app work was a retrospective analysis of Kai’s AI-driven coaching and psychological interventions. Participants’ average WHO-5 scores increased during both studies.

The Kai studies are snapshots of hopeful signs of the potential for mobile devices to support mental health. Adolescents can engage with well-being and mental health apps and resources with the same smartphones they currently use to communicate with friends and claim their share of attention on social media. There are significant convenience and cost-savings using AI-driven mobile device apps compared to traditional in-person appointments or group meetings. Adolescent familiarity and comfort with smartphones also argue in favor of using mobile device as a mental health tool.