AI’s Developing Relationship with Mental Health Solutions
Mental health is something which society has come to recognise as an important issue, with this year’s recent Mental Health Awareness Week just one of many vital initiatives. One of the less common words mentioned in the broader conversation is the role of technology and more specifically, AI. Yet, take a closer look and you will find that the relationship between mental health and AI is only growing.
Just one area that this is most apparent within, is that of early detection. We know that early detection is of crucial importance to the prompt and successful treatment of patients. Detect markers that indicate a high probability of cancer at very early stages is already an easy task for AI. With voice technology becoming a household reality, it now has the unique capacity to analyse complex data and establish patterns in our speech, where even highly skilled doctors cannot. This presents real potential for AI to provide tell-tale signs of early-stage developmental disorders, mental illness and degenerative neurological diseases and consequently, help doctors and patients better predict, monitor and track these and other related conditions.
This does not mean that diagnosing patients has to be left solely to AI. Rather, the technology can become an important tool alongside health professionals and most importantly, by aiding early diagnosis, it can save lives.
With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental health problems, mental health has become the single biggest cause of disability in the UK. This has consequences for individuals and business; 12.5 million work days are lost every year because of stress, depression or anxiety. In 2017, NHS England spent £9.7 billion on Mental Healthcare. According to IBM Research, the global cost of mental health conditions is set to surge to a phenomenal 6.0 trillion US$ by 2030. Another valuable aspect of AI, therefore, is its potential to remove the fear of judgement and reduce the perception of social stigma. These are still common barriers for people seeking professional help.
Integrating AI into mental health solutions has become both an exciting and important field within health, with developments in technology across the world. In Australia, Simon D’Alfonso of The National Center of Excellence in Youth Mental has developed the Health Moderate Online Social Therapy (MOST) project.
A multidisciplinary group of scientists from Australia and China are also leading a virtual counsellor program. Here, the virtual counsellor takes the place of a psychologist and offers both advice and support alongside stress management. Meanwhile, UK Researchers from Harvard University and their colleagues at the University of Vermont have successfully combined machine learning tools and Instagram to improve depression screening. Using indicators such as colour analysis, metadata, and algorithmic face detection, they have achieved 70 percent accuracy in detecting signs of depression. Previous studies solely involving GPs have resulted in 42 percent accuracy.
AI tools are also creating new treatment protocols. One of these is Woebot. Woebot is an AI-based chatbot app designed by Alison Darcy, a clinical psychologist at Stanford. It offers users cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). Unlike traditional clinical therapy, it is available whenever someone needs it. The benefit of Weobet is that it can, therefore, widen access to such therapy and in doing so, remove some of the barriers to seeking help while building conversational (and emotional) intelligence as they learn from their patients.
With these developments, AI is set to become an integral part of mental health solutions.