The Transcontinental Computational Psychiatry Workgroup (TCPW) organizes a monthly web-based meeting and a computational psychiatry satellite meeting with the Society of Biological Psychiatry. We hope to foster discussion and exchange between those involved in computational psychiatry—a rapidly growing, highly multidisciplinary field.

Videos of past meetings are here.

Next workgroup meeting

Towards Clinical Relevance of Computational Psychiatry

Martin Paulus

The current state of mental health globally is marked by an alarming rise in mental disorders. In 2019, approximately 970 million people were living with mental health conditions, with anxiety and depressive disorders being the most prevalent. There are significant gaps in mental health resources and systemic disparities in access to care across different regions. Despite substantial investments, mental health treatment costs have tripled over the past two decades, with employers bearing most of the economic burden. Moreover, adherence to mental health treatments remains low, with less than half of the affected individuals continuing treatment after one year. These challenges necessitate innovative approaches to understanding and treating mental health disorders.

Computational psychiatry (CP) emerges as a promising approach to address these gaps. By leveraging advanced computational models, CP aims to refine diagnostic criteria, link clinical data across multiple levels of analysis, and provide precise and pragmatic insights for novel intervention targets in psychiatric disorders. CP can elucidate complex interactions within psychiatric syndromes, which are often viewed as dynamic systems influenced by feedback loops and environmental factors. For instance, dynamical systems theory can be applied to understand phenomena such as the stability of neural network activity in working memory or the impact of neurotransmitter functions on these dynamics. However, the implementation of CP faces significant challenges. Validity and reliability issues plague the field, with many computational measures showing poor convergence across different tasks and measures intended to capture the same constructs. The lack of convergent validity, low test-retest reliability, and the overgeneralization of findings from single-task designs impede the clinical utility of CP models. Furthermore, the limited explanatory power of brain-based biomarkers, which account for only a small portion of phenotypic variance in psychiatric disorders, highlights the need for large-sample clinical studies and novel models to better capture brain-affective symptom relationships. Advances in CP are hampered by the complexity of task design, the impact of practice effects, state-like fluctuations, and trait-like changes on measurement reliability. Additionally, the heterogeneity of psychiatric syndromes and the diverse neural bases for different disorders necessitate advanced multivariate approaches to uncover specific latent dimensions within high-dimensional data. The current predictive models also face challenges in generalizability, with high performance in one clinical context not reliably predicting success with future patients.

To overcome these difficulties, a phase-based pipeline like drug development is proposed for developing clinical applications in CP. This structured approach ensures systematic transition from discovery to clinical practice, emphasizing rigorous validation and efficacy testing in target populations. Collaborative efforts, interdisciplinary research, and the integration of multilevel data are crucial for enhancing the precision and reliability of computational models. Additionally, open science practices, including the sharing of data and code, routine reporting of reliability measures, and the pre-registration of studies, are essential for fostering transparency and reproducibility in CP research. In conclusion, while CP holds significant potential for transforming mental health diagnostics and treatment, addressing its inherent challenges is vital for its clinical relevance. By refining computational models, improving data integration, and fostering collaborative research, CP can pave the way for more effective, personalized, and evidence-based mental health interventions.


Martin P. Paulus M.D.

Scientific Director and President

Laureate Institute for Brain Research