[Content Warning: this story contains material that may be triggering to some readers, especially those with mental health struggles. If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or dial 911 in case of emergency.]
Tyler Castle moved to the Triangle with a dream: to revolutionize mental health care, and to do so using Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Castle, an engineer by trade, started Morrisville’s ResolveX in 2019 with that dream in mind. He knew what many Americans have realized about mental health care as pandemic strains have caused them to seek psychological treatment—that it is often expensive, inaccessible and even ineffective. But as he dug further and further into the issue, he realized that the systems set in place to save lives lacked the widespread data collection necessary to make them better.
After seeing the widespread, qualitative problems in the system and lack of viable solutions, Castle decided to focus on streamlining one thing he could quantify. Namely, the “first responders” to a high-risk mental health situation—suicide hotlines, which are on the front lines of real-time suicide prevention.
“We settled on suicide prevention, being that there’s not sufficient data in that space and it was the only area that was a very binary, critical tipping point,” Castle said. “If we want to ultimately build something really big and really comprehensive, we need to ensure that we don’t have people who slide backwards down the scale towards suicide.”
When a caller dials into the national suicide hotline, they are automatically directed to a more localized agency. These agencies are often staffed by volunteers, and even paid workers are overworked and lack adequate mental healthcare themselves, Castle said.
So Castle got to work. He took over 5,000 calls working as a volunteer at a crisis call center, and became deeply aware of the deep mental toll that workers face as they de-escalate individuals every day; of the arcane and disparate software systems these centers used; of the temptation to resort to non-compliant use of pen and paper or to skip ahead in a Google Form when you find out a caller has a gun.
A unified platform for crisis centers, Castle realized, could improve the experience for callers, responders and administrators alike, all while recording the data the system so desperately lacked. He knew what he wanted to build, now he just needed a co-founder to build with.
Teaming up for change
Castle found the perfect “match” in Mark Navalta, a software developer who moved from the Bay Area to the Triangle looking to break into the startup space. The pair met on Bumble Bizz, the popular dating app’s professional arm, and after two meetings Navalta decided to join the team and bring his machine learning ideas to the mental healthcare space.
As Castle found, logistics are easily neglected as a crisis line worker tries to save a life, and no “script” that they might read can be adequately morphed to help every individual in crisis. That is where machine learning comes in, to collect better data and provide an interactive platform that allows workers to focus on those in crisis while still collecting important data.
“You can actually teach the machine how to perform all those analytical decisions,” Navalta said, “but a human judgment is still needed along the way, especially when dealing with a person’s mental health trends. Machines don’t have emotions, but we have emotions.”
In addition to potentially providing hundreds of call centers nationwide with a unified, modern platform and valuable data-tracking services, the machine learning element of ResolveX’s platform allows for responders to focus on the people on the other end of the line rather than what’s sitting in front of them on a computer screen or desk. In situations as serious as suicidal ideation, logistics can save lives.
“That’s what we are actually trying to solve,” Navalta said. “To make the workflow easier, instead of wasting time on very specific manual work that they’re going to be doing over and over again. We want to bring those enhancements to them so that they can focus more on helping people.”
With a recent $50K SEED grant from NC IDEA under its belt, ResolveX, which was largely bootstrapped up to this point, is set to expand its operations ahead of a big deadline in July 2022. That’s when all crisis calls will be directed through a brand new “988” hotline—think of it like 911, but for mental health.
Until then, Navalta and Castle will continue to improve what they already do best: saving lives using machine-learning and AI.