Hundreds of millions of people around the world previously suffered from common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression Covid-19and the extent of the health crisis has resulted from the pandemic. However, the demand for mental health services far exceeds the supply of trained professionals. Machines face the challenge as the first point of contact for people fighting. But how far can the robotic brain go in treating the mind of the human individual?
Research is still in its infancy, but as artificial intelligence technology, including natural language processing, makes rapid advances, experts are faced with the thorny question of how to properly use technology to treat mental illness. One factor becomes undeniable, however: many people prefer to reveal their struggle for mental health to a non-human confidante: a robot.
ONE current survey of Workplace Intelligence and oracle found that with more than 12,000 workers around the world, only 18% prefer robots to support their mental health. Sixty-eight percent prefer to talk to a robot about stress and anxiety at work, and 80 percent said they are open to having a robot as a therapist or counselor.
As mental health problems increase around the world and resources are limited, experts are developing technological approaches to treating patients, although some experts say that an AI-based approach can never offer a critical human skill: empathy.
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“Unbiased information is what people want,” said Dan Schawbel, founder and managing partner of Workplace Intelligence.
There are a few key reasons people turn to technology for this sensitive conversation: Accessibility, 24/7 help, and getting that help without having to confess to a fight.
“There’s really a stigma behind mental health worldwide. When employees talk to managers about stress or anxiety and depression, they’ll hold back. People don’t seek help from people because they don’t want to be judged,” said Schawbel.
Technology has the potential to support large-scale mental health, as well as unbiased information, non judgmental responses, and a blindness to rank in the context of the workplace – a machine fails to recognize whether the employee seeking help is a CEO or less in the corporate hierarchy.
“We won’t have a billion therapists in the world, so we need technology,” said Schawbel. “But there is no AI substitute for one of the greatest values therapists offer: human empathy. Robots cannot yet do that.”
The use of chatbots for mental health, at least in general, is supported by decades of research: people were more likely to be honest with phone voice response systems than with a live human.
“Chatbots are fine for basic things,” said Bruce Rollman, director of the Center for Behavioral Health and Intelligent Technology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, who researched online treatments for mood and anxiety disorders. “But when we start to get psychological, it’s a game of chess and we don’t always play with Deep Blue,” he said, referring to the IBM AI who defeated world champions.
“I would be skeptical if it was just a computer algorithm, but it might be fine before you talk to a therapist and an AI who creates a questionnaire,” Rollman said.
Employers expect a wave of mental health problems for the longer remote workforce, and they realize that a chatbot might be preferable for reasons beyond the basic mental health stigma, but because employees are concerned about risking promotions or promotions, and job security . Managers are also not always able to give the right answers.
“People are not adequately trained on mental health issues. When people tell you they are stressed or depressed, we often give the wrong answers, and technology is a great way to scale a range of questions and best practices,” said Emily He, senior vice president of human capital management for Oracle’s Cloud Business Group.
The technology can guide an employee through a mental health journey in a similar way as it does the onboarding process as a new hire. Conversational AIs or chatbots can interface on a daily basis and track responses to questions, in some cases also monitor speech sound, and identify and predict someone who needs more advanced treatment.
“The ultimate goal is to enable people to do what they do best, which is managing relationships. However, there are some fundamental questions and great ways to use technology,” he said.
Record levels of venture capital are flowing into the sector. According to the proprietary funding database of healthcare-focused VC firm Rock Health $ 9.4 billion has been invested in all of digital health That year it accounted for $ 4 billion in the third quarter alone. Investing in U.S. AI-powered digital health startups tracked since 2011 has exceeded $ 10 billion. Investments in AI for mental and behavioral health reach over $ 230 million in nearly 20 transactions. And the numbers are just getting bigger: In 2020, $ 72 million was invested in two sizeable AI mental health transactions. The amounts recently invested in mental health startups, including those that don’t specifically focus on AI, are far higher.
“As an investor in a handful of mental and behavioral health startups, we know firsthand that our portfolio companies have seen strong and growing demand throughout the pandemic,” said Bill Evans, CEO of Rock Health. “Like never before, automation and the thoughtful use of technologies like AI are critical to bringing a human touch to those most in need.”
“Eighty percent of the US population owns a phone, and phones can tell you if your behavior has changed,” said Rollman of Pitt. He added that while it may sound creepy, predictive analytics are the future in many aspects of our lives, from Spotify knowing what music we love to listen to, to mental health. The big gap in mental health right now is an AI that can make the right suggestion at the right time, especially if it is a high-risk person, a person with substance abuse, or suicidal tendencies.
Woebot offers therapy options for people with anxiety, depression and mental health problems in a stigma-free environment. “A robot can see me on my worst day and it’s just a robot, it doesn’t judge me,” says founder Alison Darcy.
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AI pioneers pushing the boundaries of what technology can do include Alison Darcy, founder and president of Woebot Health, a start-up that developed a chatbot for digital counseling in the mental health field. Darcy, a research psychologist and former software engineer, previously worked with Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng at his Health Innovation Lab for Computer Science at Stanford University (Ng is chairman of Woebot).
Darcy said that technology has come a long way in just a few years and can help push people beyond the main reason they don’t ask for help: the stigma and fear of being judged.
“Therapists have to spend so much time building relationships. A robot can see me on my worst day and it’s just a robot, it doesn’t judge me. They have no judgment,” Darcy said. “It’s just software.”
Woebot calls itself a robot in communicating with users, and the company has decided not to create a human avatar for the user interface, although these design choices also point to the challenge. “There is no human connection, no deep relationship, and that is the limit of technology,” said Darcy.
The constraints associated with the recent surge in investment are worrying some mental health experts.
“There is a gold rush in space and we believe in it, but also in science,” said Catherine Serio, clinical psychologist and assistant vice president of behavioral digital solutions at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “There’s a lot of money to be made out there.”
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center recently launched a behavioral health app called RxWell, which aims to strike a balance between reliance on technology and the need for greater access to individuals to help them take the first step in finding help with depression and Can undertake anxiety attacks.
Serio, who has been treating patients with depression and anxiety for years, recognized the problem with stigma and scaling behavioral health, but believes a hybrid model is the only responsible path. “We believe the AI needs to mature more. A chatbot is basically a set of business rules for responding to people, and we haven’t seen a fully coded response that will work for people with depression and anxiety,” she said.
Building a relationship, a therapeutic bond, has been cited as the reason why digital therapy cannot be effective. But Woebot showed an attempt by young adults the ability to reduce mental health symptoms and deliver cognitive behavior therapy. “That’s not to say that it replaces therapy. It really isn’t, but it does allow the therapy to be fully effective,” Darcy said. “Our data shows that this can be a useful first step. It’s incredibly easy and destigmatizing.”
Woebot can also recognize crisis languages and in these cases is programmed to tell the user that they need a human therapist. In other words, the programming of the robot is to identify its own limitations. “The robot would rather ask you about your mood than recognize it. The best person to tell us how you are is you,” said Darcy.
She said research shows that users also turn to the robot as they recover as aftercare. “We see people talking to robots for a long time, maybe three months if it’s a difficult time, and then nine months later if they’re in another difficult patch. And that’s a longer-term perspective than we are usually think about “, said the Woebot founder. “At the moment, people respond well to a patient’s needs. A chatbot can do that too. It reacts to where a person is.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a boom in technology-based health care and psychiatric departments, a rare financial achievement: an area of care that, according to Soo Jeong Youn, usually loses money to health care facilities and becomes a source of profit. a research psychologist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. She says technology should be used more to combat mental health stigma and enable better access to care in more cultures and populations, but she added that the research is still preliminary.
“We’re not there yet. We’re not close to what we see in sci-fi movies and the responses are tailored for each person, but the AI turned out really good,” she said.
For example, if a person claims to be feeling anxious, the AI can provide resources that are tailored to fear. “I’m just looking for, ‘I’m scared. What am I doing?’ It’s something to have more information about an app, “she said.
The need for help is great and growing as more Americans face problems such as job loss and food insecurity. Among the customers UPMC works with to provide health care, the number of respondents who said that their mental health was negatively affected increased from 32% in March to 58% in August. “That one statistic alone is an enormous number of people,” said Jim Kinville, senior director of the LifeSolutions group at UPMC.
Wellness and prevention apps that provide access to skills and cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help people manage stress and anxiety are now widely available. Some apps like Talkspace offer the ability to connect with a human therapist online or combine digital tools with live support, such as: B. RxWell from UMPC.
“There are many unmet needs out there, and people we call the ‘walking wounded’ … are working fine but could benefit more from digital tools,” Kinville said. “These technical tools can start the process and get people to get involved.”
The recent VC deals in space show that betting on mental health business models with AI isn’t limited to creating compelling chatbots. Ginger raised $ 50 million in August, including funds from major insurer VC Arms at Cigna and Kaiser Permanente for its on-demand behavioral health platform that provides access to coaching, video therapy, and self-directed activities. In early 2020, Spring Health raised $ 22 million for what it describes “Precision Psychiatry” It uses a proprietary approach to machine learning to diagnose conditions and identify the best therapy options for individuals.
While the core AI technology, including the natural language processing that underlies chatbots, has advanced in recent years, research shows that algorithms continue to analyze the same data sets and produce different outcomes and predict different outcomes.
That makes Harvards Youn cautious beyond what a chatbot can do today: the equivalent of an initial session with a therapist where the goal is to understand what a person is going through.
“Hopefully with the pandemic outbreak we will get there much faster, and there is plenty of room and space for these chat-based apps to provide help and to alleviate hardship through the power of AI,” said the Harvard psychologist.
For some experts working at the intersection of technology and human performance, the danger is that a side to choose will be missing in the battle between mental health professionals and machines, how serious the battle has become, and we will have to throw everything we have to it is available.
Recent increases in serious mental health problemsThe importance and severity of improving access to psychiatric care, especially for people of skin color and lower incomes, is highlighted, particularly among younger adults who say they felt suicidal.
“The demands on mental health are increasing massively,” said Bill Duane, former wellness and performance manager at Google, who now runs his own consultancy. “Existential fear, financial insecurity, nebulous boundaries between work and home … fear of job security that leads people to try to assert themselves and work harder, which only works in the short term. I am with everything that goes on heartbroken. But I am extremely optimistic about how AI can be included. “
Woebot is experiencing increased usage, “huge increases,” Darcy said during the pandemic, and it has been found that younger users need more assistance, which, according to recent research, poses an increased risk. At the time of the August deal, Ginger noted “exploding demand” for the treatment of anxiety and depression in US workers.
More and more staff are ready to ask for help as there is a greater shared feeling of having a difficult experience as a community, he said. Technology-based mental health support is a natural extension of the way people already interact with machines – fitness apps support better physical health and have crept into other areas of wellbeing like sleep patterns.
But UPMC’s Serio said after an initial assessment, there is no AI substitute for the “nuances and cues” and all the things that people do. … What people need is empathy. Anyone who says this will be fully automated One day I don’t know what reality they are in. “
Duane believes that people shouldn’t underestimate how far the technology is – they don’t have to make an appointment or see a doctor as a first step to get rid of any feelings of shame or discomfort. It’s a stigma workaround, a band help for the bigger problem of getting more people to seek help, but he said it also speaks for the fact that chatbots are already part of the solution.
“For anyone feeling the weight of 2020, it’s a reasonable response to what’s going on and the massive increase in demand. Access and timeliness are really important when we look at the number of people receiving mental health care … Can AI and chatbots be helpful? Absolutely and partially. “