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Could AI be intensifying the mental health epidemic?

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As services fail to cope with a sharp rise in demand for mental health care, artificial intelligence, robotics and even smartphone apps have become a realistic concept. But could this shift away from human care be doing more harm than good?

The rising demand for mental health care, and huge increase in demand for therapy, makes it quite undeniable that there’s a crisis. Not just for patients who are stuck on never-ending waiting lists, but for the health services which are already crippled by staff shortages, lack of specialists, and building demand that just can’t be met. 

The concept of a technological solution is certainly an interesting one, not least because there’s been a shift in capabilities of artificial intelligence, automated therapy robots, and ever-advancing phone apps which claim to be the ultimate solution to our wellbeing and mental health. 

But some experts believe that this shift to tech is being pushed for the wrong reasons, and that ultimately, we’d be “moving away” from effective healthcare. 

Mental health experts speak out

As previously reported by Health Tech World, trauma therapy is in hot debate for this exact reason, with experts claiming the crisis is insurmountable without continued and dedicated human help. 

Katarina Hunter, who runs Katarina Hunter Health stated “If AI is to assist rather than trump trauma healing, people need education about how our survival biology works, why their physical, mental and emotional health might be in a state of disease, and how healing happens via the connection to their own body.

“Otherwise, people will continue to believe that they need a solution from tech because they are unaware of their own agency in their own life and health.”

Do patients want digital mental health care?

Recent research studied the preferred treatment modality by most people with depression and found…

  • 26% of participants preferred self-guided digital treatment,
  • 20% preferred expert guided digital treatment
  •  44.5% preferred in-person psychotherapy  

Although there is clear demand for digital services and digital integration, most respondents chose face to face therapy, indicating a preference for human feel or at least integrated human services with digital offerings.

Algorithms could mean lack of diversity 

Dr Sarah O’Neill, CCO at Spectrum Life commented: “AI can assist in advancing understanding of the causes of mental illnesses and improve overall diagnosis; however, there is little follow up for those that use services and biases may be present in algorithms presenting risks of lack of diversity and not being able to detect nonverbal cues. 

“These risks may leave people vulnerable in a time of need, and clearly indicate that further development is needed for AI counterparts to match human led mental health solutions.

AI must be human collaborators 

Dr O’Neill also commented that for AI to be as effective as human counsellors or therapists, the AI must operate as “human collaborators” as far as possible. 

She continued: “The tech must show abilities to sense, understand and react to a diverse range of complex human behaviour (for example demonstrate attention, motivation, creativity and empathy). 

Therefore, AI solutions must be formulated to have human-like cognitive abilities to enable mutual understanding and collaboration – e.g. human awareness.”

Tech has its limits 

“Current technology has its limits. AI machines remain unconscious or are created to have a special purpose or support with specific tasks. 

“In general, digital reasoning and problem solving are the only factors that have a superficial comparison to a human or biological mental health solution (e.g. mental health coach or therapist).

AI can assist in advancing understanding of the causes of mental illnesses and improve overall diagnosis; however, there is little follow up for those that use services and biases may be present in algorithms presenting risks of lack or diversity and not being able to detect nonverbal cues.  

“These risks may leave people vulnerable in a time of need  and clearly indicate that further development is needed for AI counterparts to match human led mental health solutions.”

Technology for mental health – what we have so far 

There have been some breakthroughs in health tech when it comes to mental health support, but like anything else, the evidence and solidity of its effectiveness will come in time, and backed up by numbers. 

A few examples.

New AI can precinct your mental state in 10 seconds

New artificial intelligence can decipher your mental state from 10 seconds of your voice, and then use it to help you feel better. 

Full story here

The “empathetic” AI therapist can perform CBT

A mental health AI “therapist” claiming to have empathy and the ability to perform Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Wysa has already been integrated into Dorset Healthcare University NHS Foundation Trust services, with a £1m RCT trial being run at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust. 

Full story here 

 

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VR & the virtual wellness revolution 

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  1. Pingback: Headspace announces workplace wellbeing solution | Health Tech World

  2. Pingback: AI trained by Meta shut down for spewing misinformation

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