In those that struggle with mental health, the largest hurdle is often getting help. From the high costs of treatment to the social stigma that surrounds it, the benefits seem to be, from a distance, outweighed by the obstacles.
The integration of technology into mental health treatment aims to reduce those obstacles and clear the path to a healthier standard of living.
Mindstrong, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) startup, is developing an app that will track a user’s physical interactions with their smartphone, for example, their typing habits, and use that data to draw informed conclusions about the user’s mental state. President and co-founder of Mindstrong, Dr. Thomas Insel, said that this data collection will “[serve] as the foundation for developing better interventions to improve mental health care” (Greene 2017, p.8).
AI intersecting with mental health care is a movement that intends to fill a void for those that are not yet ready or able to seek professional help, but need some kind of tangible assessment of their well being, as Mindstrong could provide, or some kind of space to talk about their well being without that cloud of social stigma, as Woebot, another AI creation, could provide.
Woebot is an AI-backed chatbot with which users can discuss their daily mood, which is proven to be helpful in battling anxiety and depression. According to its website, it “tracks your mood, gives you insight, [teaches] you stuff, [helps you] feel better, [is there] 24/7, [and will] learn from you over time” (Woebot- Your charming robot friend who is ready to listen 24/7, n.d.).
Woebot is intended to offer a safe space for those in need to simply talk through their days to a compassionate and attentive listener, without worrying about any kind of judgement. However, it is still supposed to be an option for those who are wading into mental health treatment, not an alternative for treatment itself.
Alison Darcy, C.E.O. and founder of Woebot, said, “The AI is very restricted, we’ve erred on the side of control. It’s more about finding the right way to interact with people in a familiar way. Instead of using AI to determine how Woebot talks to people, we’re using it to determine what he chooses to say next, from a predetermined set. We base everything on cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, so there’s a specific way it will interact with people” (Greene 2017, p.19).
So while AI certainly is not the best option for those in need of mental health treatment, nor can it replace talk therapy, or psychiatrist- prescribed medication, it is a soft entry for those who may be thinking about treatment, or are simply interested in tracking their moods so they may identify patterns that will help them decide if they should pursue treatment. It is halfway between a step towards destigmatizing mental health culture, and a comfortable umbrella under which those who want to avoid being stigmatized can take shelter.
For more on this topic please read, “AI is a powerful tool in the fight against anxiety and depression.”
Greene, T. (2017, August 03). AI is a powerful tool in the fight against anxiety and depression. Retrieved August 04, 2017, from https://thenextweb.com/artificial-intelligence/2017/08/03/ai-is-a-powerful-tool-in-the-fight-against-anxiety-and-depression/#.tnw_9UmM5NNN
Woebot – Your charming robot friend who is here for you, 24/7. (n.d.). Retrieved August 04, 2017, from https://woebot.io/