AI Helping Mental Health?

Over one million people are referred to mental health services each year in the UK. Unfortunately, the service provisions are so oversubscribed that only around half of those referred are provided with one session of workbook-based support. The typical wait to receive help is over twelve weeks. During this wait time, many people face a worsening of their mental health, or they remove themselves from the system, feeling hesitant to be more of a burden.

Technology and the human condition.

Artificial intelligence has emerged as a powerful tool in revolutionising the way we think about the professional sphere. Robots sort through recyclable materials, help pack and deliver products we order, and drive self-driving vehicles. Then there are more personal activities. AI assistants schedule meetings, answer customer calls, and guide customers through their questions online.

In 1972, Allen Newell and Herbert Simon posited a then-outrageous view:

‘Humans, when engaged in problem-solving in the kinds of tasks we have considered, are representable as information processing systems.’

Newell and Simon were interested in AI in the 1970s and likened the brain to a computer. Both store and retrieve information, work on it and solve problems with algorithms.

AI has begun to create art. Works that, despite being made by machine learning, can still surprise us with beauty, images of the surreal and natural, just like art created by humans. There will, of course, rage debate over the art being based on existing data it has been fed and cannot think up new ideas without new inputs – but is this really that far from the human condition? An artist gains inspiration from something they see, experience and process.

The fact that AI has come this far, that we can even debate its creativity as art, has a genuine impact on how technology can be applied to the mental sphere.

AI and dehumanising mental health

In 2018, the BMJ published a qualitative review of advances in AI in health. In the report, Professor Erwin Loh stated, ‘ AI has now been shown to be as effective as humans in the diagnosis of various medical conditions, and in some cases, more effective.’ In addition to this, ‘when it comes to predicting suicide attempts, recent research suggests AI is better than human beings.’

Through digital apps, AI can provide self-care exercises to support mental health. Exercises that help people manage their mental health and improve their resilience based on clinically reviewed and proven cognitive-behavioural techniques.

The cost of this is dehumanising the experience of healthcare. A human dynamic between doctor and patient won’t exist. Things typically central to any medical treatment are very human – empathy and trust.

While AI can, to an extent, create art, have a conversation, guide and help, can it provide empathy? Will AI in a mental health capacity relate to a person’s emotional state? Is it even possible to code or create an algorithm for empathy?

Is any help right now better than none?

Mental health isn’t the image that movies have conjured up. Sitting on a Doctor’s sofa – the very choice of seat significantly impacts the delivery of your treatment – isn’t quite the truth of mental health work. The techniques and help available to people are broader; sometimes, simply having an outlet to unburden your thoughts can be highly impactful.

Global mental health is estimated to cost the economy $2.5 trillion per year through productivity losses, and with resources being stretched to breaking point, help for patients is becoming harder to access. Anything that can help this is valuable to us all.

The tools that technology offers in the mental health space could revolutionise our well-being. Natural language tracking can detect patterns from chats, social media posts, and emails that might correlate with mental health issues such as stress, depression, or anxiety.

There are also claims that natural language tracking can detect depression signals just by using the patterns in smartphone typing. Depression impacts how we move our bodies, including how we type. AI can be used to detect, monitor, and stay on top of all of these habits, providing us with a conversation prompt exactly when we need it.

During those 12 weeks of waiting for a referral, is it better to have AI support rather than nothing? I think absolutely. The language levels and sophistication of AI have taken giant leaps. We will soon have a more definitive answer: Plymouth University is trialling using an AI chatbox app and evaluating its effect against a control group of people on waiting lists.

I am looking forward to the results of this study and am certain that technology will continue to develop to better help us all, not just with tasks but also in our own wellness and happiness. 

Are you ready to revolutionise mental health care with cutting-edge technology?

Discover how our intelligent self-service solutions can make a difference. Contact us today to learn more about implementing AI in mental health care and be part of the change. Let’s build a healthier, happier future with AI-driven mental health support.