Pioneering mental health diagnostics for Māori community with technology

Transforming Maori mental health diagnostics, a groundbreaking fusion of computing science and cultural sensitivity detects schizophrenia via speech patterns.

In New Zealand, the Māori community faces distinct challenges in accessing accurate mental health diagnoses and support. Collaborating medical professionals and technology experts have initiated a research project leveraging natural language processing to detect signs of schizophrenia by analysing speech patterns. This innovative approach aims to ensure culturally sensitive mental health care that resonates with diverse voices, marking a pivotal step towards inclusive healthcare solutions.

For many Māori dealing with mental health issues like schizophrenia, communicating with healthcare providers can feel like speaking to someone from a different world.

Randall Ratana

Understanding minds differently

For many Māori dealing with mental health issues like schizophrenia, communicating with healthcare providers can feel like speaking to someone from a different world. Schizophrenia can exacerbate feelings of confusion and fear, making accurate diagnosis a challenging task. Māori are disproportionately diagnosed with schizophrenia or delayed in receiving a diagnosis, highlighting the need for diagnostic tools that respect diverse experiences and expressions within the bounds of an accepted cultural framework. The challenge lies in developing tools that truly grasp these nuances while ensuring everyone’s voice is heard in mental health care.

Tech meets tradition: A new hope

Bridging modern technology with ancient traditions is akin to befriending someone from a different world. This project achieves just that by utilising natural language processing, which deciphers speech patterns to detect signs of schizophrenia. This innovative approach goes beyond algorithms, delving into the essence of Māori worldviews of schizophrenia, thereby creating a culturally sensitive and responsive approach to mental health support. It signifies a hopeful future where technology embodies warmth and cultural respect, paving the way for mental wellness that honours non-western worldviews of mental experiences or phenomena.

Navigating the cultural maze and collecting voices

Collecting voices from the Māori community posed significant challenges, with parallels to navigating a complex maze. The team approached this task with respect and cultural sensitivity, recognizing the significance of expressions of self within the illness narratives. Initiating sensitive conversations about mental health involved more than mere speech collection; it required establishing trust, fostering understanding, and prioritising collective wellness goals.

Engaging with Māori leaders, researchers engaged in deep listening to community concerns, recognizing the significance of every gesture and word. Overcoming obstacles included ensuring that the technology comprehended the nuances of expressing illness experiences by Maori participants in their chosen language (English), thereby maintaining respectful participation. Despite challenges, doubts, and privacy concerns, efforts were made to ensure technology felt culturally attuned and human-like.

With patience and deep listening, the researchers successfully collected valuable voices while respecting traditions and values. This journey emphasised forging deeper connections and understanding, highlighting the irreplaceable value of human touch and cultural acknowledgment and respect in today’s technology-driven world.

Bridging worlds with technology

Integrating technology into personal health sparks scepticism, especially within the Māori community. This sense of scepticism is rooted in deep-seated mistrust of institutions of power and, more importantly, the negative impacts of research on indigenous people due to a lack of cultural considerations and methodologies. However, this project aims not to replace human understanding with technology but to enhance it, ensuring cultural nuances are recognized. The goal is to eliminate biases in healthcare, ensuring no one is misunderstood due to their background or linguistic expression.

Promising horizons-a tool that understands

Imagine a tool that comprehends the essence behind words, a prospect within this research. For Māori communities, it signifies personalised mental health care, preserving their unique identity. This advancement isn’t just significant for Māori; it marks progress towards inclusive healthcare, acknowledging diversity and ensuring tailored support for all.

The road ahead

This isn’t just a study; it’s a glimpse into a future where healthcare speaks every language of the heart. It’s about making sure no one’s left on the sidelines, ensuring everyone’s story is heard and understood. That’s a future worth talking about.


Journal reference

Ratana, R., Sharifzadeh, H., & Krishnan, J. (2023). Considerations for collecting data in Māori population for automatic detection of schizophrenia using natural language processing: a New Zealand experience. AI & SOCIETY, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00146-023-01700-6

Dr. Randall Ratana is a graduate in Computing from the Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand. Randall's special interests lie in computational science, indigenous medicine, and modern-day policing.