An Evolutionary Bootstrapping Development Approach for a Mental Health Conversational Agent

Mowafa Househ, Jens Schneider, Kashif Ahmad, Tanvir Alam, Dena Al-Thani, Mohamed Ali Siddig, Luis Fernandez, Marwa Qaraqe, Ala Alfuquha, Shekhar Saxena

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Conversational agents are being used to help in the screening, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of common mental health disorders. In this paper, we propose a bootstrapping approach for the development of a digital mental health conversational agent (i.e., chatbot). We start from a basic rule-based expert system and iteratively move towards a more sophisticated platform composed of specialized chatbots each aiming to assess and pre-diagnose a specific mental health disorder using machine learning and natural language processing techniques. During each iteration, user feedback from psychiatrists and patients are incorporated into the iterative design process. A survival of the fittest approach is also used to assess the continuation or removal of a specialized mental health chatbot in each generational design. We anticipate that our unique and novel approach can be used for the development of conversational mental health agents with the ultimate goal of designing a smart chatbot that delivers evidence-based care and contributes to scaling up services while decreasing the pressure on mental health care providers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHealth Informatics Vision
Subtitle of host publicationFrom Data via Information to Knowledge
EditorsMowafa S. Househ, Aikaterini Kolokathi, Arie Hasman, Parisis Gallos, Joseph Liaskos, John Mantas
PublisherIOS Press
Number of pages4
ISBN (Electronic)9781614999867
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

Publication series

NameStudies in Health Technology and Informatics
ISSN (Print)0926-9630
ISSN (Electronic)1879-8365



  • Anxiety
  • Arab world
  • Conversational agent
  • Depression
  • Mental health
  • Qatar

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Health Informatics
  • Health Information Management

Cite this

Househ, M., Schneider, J., Ahmad, K., Alam, T., Al-Thani, D., Siddig, M. A., Fernandez, L., Qaraqe, M., Alfuquha, A., & Saxena, S. (2019). An Evolutionary Bootstrapping Development Approach for a Mental Health Conversational Agent. In M. S. Househ, A. Kolokathi, A. Hasman, P. Gallos, J. Liaskos, & J. Mantas (Eds.), Health Informatics Vision: From Data via Information to Knowledge (pp. 228-231). (Studies in Health Technology and Informatics; Vol. 262). IOS Press.