Machine learning in mental health: a scoping review of methods and applications

Psychol Med. 2019 Jul;49(9):1426-1448. doi: 10.1017/S0033291719000151. Epub 2019 Feb 12.


Background: This paper aims to synthesise the literature on machine learning (ML) and big data applications for mental health, highlighting current research and applications in practice.

Methods: We employed a scoping review methodology to rapidly map the field of ML in mental health. Eight health and information technology research databases were searched for papers covering this domain. Articles were assessed by two reviewers, and data were extracted on the article's mental health application, ML technique, data type, and study results. Articles were then synthesised via narrative review.

Results: Three hundred papers focusing on the application of ML to mental health were identified. Four main application domains emerged in the literature, including: (i) detection and diagnosis; (ii) prognosis, treatment and support; (iii) public health, and; (iv) research and clinical administration. The most common mental health conditions addressed included depression, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease. ML techniques used included support vector machines, decision trees, neural networks, latent Dirichlet allocation, and clustering.

Conclusions: Overall, the application of ML to mental health has demonstrated a range of benefits across the areas of diagnosis, treatment and support, research, and clinical administration. With the majority of studies identified focusing on the detection and diagnosis of mental health conditions, it is evident that there is significant room for the application of ML to other areas of psychology and mental health. The challenges of using ML techniques are discussed, as well as opportunities to improve and advance the field.

Keywords: Big data; health informatics; machine learning; mental health.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Mental Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health*
  • Public Health*