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Four Ways in Which AI can Help Make Mental Healthcare More Accessible

by Team IA, February 19, 2021

2020 was harsh on humanity in general and on the mental health of people worldwide, in particular. Depression, anxiety, and fear were paramount. Help is just an App away, only if you knew! Help is pivotal to the welfare of patients who need support to maintain their mental health. Artificial intelligence has been put to use widely in the last year for a wide range of such individuals — Those who were stuck in isolation wards as a direct impact of the pandemic, those who could no longer reach out to friends in work places due to the new normal work-from-home scenario, those who required clinical help but were hesitant to approach a specialist, et al. The number of people suffering from the big D sizeably increased due to Covid-19. NIH stats revealed that one in five Americans lives with a mental illness. Only a small percentage of these people get the required treatment, for various reasons including shortage of mental healthcare. AI can chip in to reduce the burden of mental health problems.

AI-powered apps for Mental Health

Woebot, developed by a team of Stanford psychologists and AI experts is an app-based mood tracker. It is a smart combination of a chatbot, AI as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) designed to help people manage their mental health issues on their own. This is immensely helpful for those who do not seek mental health because of the stigma attached as such chatbot-apps can effectively deliver CBT. Woebot uses a paid subscription model for chats, mood tracking, and word games and engages with users who have depression or anxiety. The app’s COVID-19 program, Perspectives, helps provide guided meditation techniques and gives tips to users which help in combating cabin fever or even facilitates connecting with others while maintaining social distancing.

Wysa, the AI-based ’emotionally intelligent’ conversational chatbot applies techniques such as CBT, dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), and even meditation support for those dealing with anxiety, depression, stress, other issues. When a UK-based individual committed suicide due to the fear of self-isolation during Covid-19, the founders of Elomia worked towards launching this app. Elomia, the AI-driven therapy chatbox, works via Facebook Messenger, and can be a companion to those dealing with anxiety and sadness. It can converse after hearing what the user is saying and respond in a way that the user feels better. This is done using CBT.

Suicide Management

Data Science has made great advances in some areas of mental healthcare, particularly in suicide prevention. Till now suicide prevention was enabled by mental healthcare professionals on the basis of their experience with such individuals, the previous reports of the patient, and data available to them such as their incidents of substance abuse etc. Increasingly, ML is applied to crisis counselling hotlines and helps identify callers who are at a greater risk of harming themselves by detecting certain words they use to communicate. The hotlines gather data constantly which helps them identify individuals-at-risk with a greater precision than human professionals as they are able to browse through a wide range of factors to arrive at results.

Better Understanding of Problems | Data Gathering Support Tools

The body language of Ellie, the data-gatherer (3-D Chat Bot by researchers at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies) was based on hours of recorded videos, and mimics that of a mental health therapist/professional. The advantage being that in Ellie’s presence, patients can be more forthcoming about their problems versus when they are seated face-to-face with a real human being. This still holds true for veterans vis-a-vis the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses in many communities. Make no mistake; Ellie cannot replace the real professionals. She correctly identifies when a patient has PTSD in the manner in which they touch their hands or heads. Ellie thus is an extremely beneficial treatment support tool which is data-driven.

Text and written language analysis

Text and written language analysis is being considered as a key area where AI can help mental healthcare professionals such as psychiatrists, counsellors, and therapists. ML algorithms have been trained to pick and assess the words chosen by patients on their written notes to give a warning to the professional treating them. Thearchat is an app with a customizable chat bot designed to analyze text-based conversations. It picks up negative or positive words used by the patient for a detailed investigation which helps professionals in devising better treatment plans.

Mental healthcare has an enormous potential to grow for the benefit of mankind using AI. The advancements in this field are albeit slow as compared to other branches of healthcare.

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