Gavin McConvey

Sending institution: Action Mental Health

Receiving institution: University of Granada

Secondment dates: 24th-28th March and 24th November - 4th December 2019

As Action Mental Health are to play a central role in the MENHIR project, being involved in the recruitment and management of volunteers and hosting staff from all universities taking part in the research activity, it was incumbent me as the AMH representative to engage with the Universidad de Granada at an early stage to establish AMH responsibilities. Allied to this was a wish to gain a fuller understanding of the research and the particular aspects that would inform the development of activities required at the various stages of the research.

The MENHIR project will research the use of conversational technologies to assist people with anxiety and/or depression to monitor and manage their conditions.

The secondment to Universidad de Granada for me had 3 functions

  • AMH’s role in the research
  • Understanding aspects of the research to aid in the development of the technology.
  • Working with other university researchers to identify support required for various (yet unknown) aspects of the project.

To date my learning curve has been immense. Conversational analysis, emotional analysis, perceptual analysis, synthetic voice experiments, proactive dialogue systems, data management, research ethics are just a few of the new subjects that I am trying to get to grips with.

The challenges are vast; to get to a level of understanding that best supports the project but also enhances the researcher experience of those involved has required enormous effort.

Hearty thanks to Zoraida and Antonio and the staff at Universidad de Granada to the warm welcome and support throughout.


Terry Amorese

Sending institution: Università degli Studi della Campania "Luigi Vanvitelli"

Receiving institution: Action Mental Health

Secondment dates: 23rd July - 27th November 2019

Summary of the secondment work:

Since MENHIR final conversational system would be a speaking chatbot, during the secondment have been tested perceptual features of synthetic voices in terms of user acceptance, requirements and expectations. In a first stage, six synthetic voices (male and female voices) have been developed, using three free online synthesizers providing synthetic English speech. The three synthesizers were: From Text To Speech, Natural Reader, and Oddcast. Each synthesizer provided two synthetic voices (one male and one female) for a total of 6 stimuli. Each voice produced the sentence: “Hi, I am sure today will be a nice day, not matter it is raining or sunshine”. Each synthetic voice has been assessed in terms of pragmatic, hedonic, and attractive dimensions, as well as in terms of intelligibility, expressiveness, and naturalness through the English versions of the Virtual Agent Voice Acceptance Questionnaire (VAVAQ), developed at UVA. In a second stage, meetings were organized with AMH clients, in order to make them aware about  MENHIR project features, and to ask them to join the perceptual experiment. Once obtained clients’ consent in joining  the study, several workshops have been arranged in which participants were asked to listen to the six synthetic voices and after each voice fill the questionnaire aimed at collecting information about their willingness to interact with the voices and their opinions about them. A total of 40 participants were involved, among these 21 AMH Clients and 19 among AMH staff members, New Life Counseling staff members  and  members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

During the secondment period, I’ve been also involved in the organization of MENHIR recorded interviews. In order to analyze whether speech patterns (for example, volume, tone, intonation) can be linked to mental wellbeing, were audio recorded conversations between AMH clients and counselors from New Life Counseling. Before starting the interviews, has been necessary to set up all the materials and documents used to conduct the interviews, test the appropriateness of the setting and the functioning of the tools such as the microphone and the laptop. Moreover, training sessions were organized in order to allow NLC counselors to familiarize with the interview’s procedure, described below: counselors asked clients to answer to some general questions (for example:” What did you have for breakfast?” and “How did you get here today?”). Then, clients have been asked to answer to the items of the Warwick-Edinburgh scale trying to expand their responses, in order to talk about their general mental wellbeing state. At the end of the conversational stage, participants were also asked to read a short calibration text: “The boy who cried Wolf! Wolf!”. I’ve also been involved, as interviewer, in recordings which have been carried out with a control group of students from Ulster University in Jordanstown.

Personal notes:

The secondment experience in Action Mental Health meant a lot for me, I was welcomed in a very professional but at the same time friendly working environment. Despite being so far from home, I didn't feel like a stranger, I was immediately involved in AMH activities and everyone was very kind and helpful. I have to thanks in particular AMH business development manager Gavin McConvey, working with him has been instructive and fun. I also have to thank Professor Maurice Mulvenna and Dr. Raymond Bond from Ulster University, although we had worked together just for a little, it was still very interesting. This experience has been so positive that next year, in September, I will go back to AMH for other three months of secondments as ESR. Once finished the secondment period, I’m planning to stay in Belfast at least other three months,  in order to conduct research concerning my PhD thesis.

Raymond Bond

Sending institution: Ulster University

Receiving institution: GLOBIT

Secondment dates: 14 - 21 August 2019

I met with my two PhD students to discuss our two MENHIR papers together. I read more about chatbots and indeed their ethical challenges surrounding imitating humans, anthropomorphism design choices, utilitarianism, human-centred AI, CASA theory and the uncanny valley theory as applied to voice/smart speakers. I met with Globit and discussed data governance and data storage. We discussed architectures and knowledge management.

Frederick Booth

Sending institution: Ulster University

Receiving institution: GLOBIT

Secondment dates: 1 - 15 August 2019

During the secondment Mr Turkington and myself were tasked with providing initial drafts of two papers based on the Deliverable document. This work was undertaken as part of Work Package 2 - "Needs and user experience analysis for chatbot-based mental health monitoring”. Whilst both participated in these tasks, each participant took the lead on a specific paper. Mr Turkington lead on "Co-creating Requirements and assessing acceptability with end-users for a voice-based chatbot to support mental health: A Thematic Analysis" and I on "Towards integrating speech analytics into smart speakers and chatbots to monitor mental health, mood and well-being: Challenges and Opportunities"

Towards the end of the secondment, we discussed with GLOBIT the content of both papers and to exchange ideas.

Marialucia Cuciniello

Sending institution: Università degli Studi della Campania "Luigi Vanvitelli"

Receiving institution: GLOBIT

Secondment dates: 1 July -30 August 2019

1st week: During the first week I met GLOBIT employees. Starting from the concepts derived from the project, I focused on depression and anxiety, in particular on the symptoms that the two disorders have in common. The MENHIR project aims to research and develop conversation technologies in order to help people with depression and anxiety manage their conditions or difficulties, using more realistic, natural and smart interactions.

2nd week: I illustrated my role and the idea that could be developed within the MENHIR project in a presentation, under the supervision of my Professors Anna Esposito and Gennaro Cordasco. My role:

  • to learn more about how to define and specify health care platforms for mental health services.
  • to improve the quality of the life of people affected by depression and anxiety disorders through the support of an automatic dialogue system.

As previously mentioned, I focused on the symptoms that anxiety and depression disorders have in common (nervousness, irritability, sleep disorders and concentration problems) selecting sleep disorders among them. Different events can cause anxiety and depression, for example a layoff or an unexpected grief; these events can elicit feelings of anxiety, nervousness, sadness, fear and loneliness. All of them represent normal reactions to daily stress. The depressed subject experiences these mental states every day, without any motivation and this does not allow him to take care of himself and his family and prevents him from a good job performance.

3rd week: The purpose of the third week was to explain the reason for the importance of studying sleep disorders, the results of this research have produced the following motivations:

  • a diagnosis of depression in the absence of sleep may not be exact.
  • sleep disorders can be the reason why depressed people consult a specialist for the first time.
  • there is a high risk of relapse and recurrence if other symptoms improve and sleep disorders persist.

For a long time, insomnia was seen as a symptom of psychic difficulty rather than one of the causes. Helping people sleep better could be an important first step in dealing with psychological and emotional problems.


4th week: I met the researcher Raquel Justo of Universidad del País Vasco UPV / EHU (UPV). During the meeting, the GLOBIT team showed us, through different phases, what a chatbot can do, highlighting the most important steps.

5th week: I focused on therapies that have proven most effective in treating sleep disorders in order to understand how to create a dialogue structure for the chatbot learning. Cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTI) is an effective and non-pharmacological treatment of primary insomnia. It is recognized as a first-line treatment for insomnia by the Consensus Statement of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and by the British Association of Psychopharmacology. CBTI is an effective treatment for chronic insomnia associated with depression and also leads to significant post-treatment improvements in depression.

6th week: I was given material to study and investigate about chatbots and some useful links to see some types of chatbots:

  • https://woebot.io/ Woebot - Your charming robot friend who is ready to listen
  • https://dialogflow.com/  - Google Dialogflow
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSjW0wqu2Ck - Babylon AI Event June 27th 2018 Alexa demo
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8NkwQLo-6o  - The most powerful AI for healthcare - Babylon Health
  • https://www.babylonhealth.com/  - Online Doctor Consultations & Advice | Babylon Health
  • https://www.wysa.io/Wysa  - your 4 am friend and AI life coach

7th week: there was a meeting organized by GLOBIT in which other secondees from Ulster University took part.

Last week: taking into consideration the initial outline of the working plan, we discussed the secondment results and what remains to be solved

Antonio J. Benítez

Sending institution: Universidad de Granada

Receiving institution: Action Mental Health

Secondment dates: 27 April to 26 July 2019

I am Antonio Javier Benítez Guijarro, and during my secondment I participated as computer science junior researcher.

My Fellowship period took place in Belfast (Northern Ireland, UK) at the Action Mental Health New Horizon offices, where I was immediately welcomed as part of the team discovering how their staff worked hand by hand with all the clients related with the project. During the first month of my secondment I was responsible of understanding the main needs of people with mental ill health in order to learn and transcribe to the rest of our partners how we should design and address a project that could support clients improve their wellbeing and at the same time help professionals (counselors, psychologist and staff working with this clients)  to develop their activities using the outputs of this project. During this first month I visited many services around Northern Ireland, in order to interview the staff in charge of each center. With this I made a summary of their work methodology and what were the needs of both the patients and the counselors who worked there every day.


Throughout the rest of my secondment I worked next to Zoraida Callejas, Gavin McConvey, Anna Esposito and other components of the project designing the requirements that the project will cover, the public image, public dissemination, website, social media of the project and we designed the preliminary plan of the project.

I am very grateful to Prof. Zoraida Callejas, Gavin McConvey, Prof.Anna Esposito and the whole staff for making my training period at MENHIR enjoyable and memorable as I couldn’t imagine before, because thanks to them I learnt a completely new way of thinking and working, understanding the importance of achieving value not only at the level of technology, intervention or people care, but also at the level of patient and population.

This was a unique experience that enriched me from both a professional and a personal point of view creating tons of amazing memories and friendships that I will never forget.