Artificial Intelligence and Mental Wellbeing

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Health Assured team

15 February 2024

In recent years, artificial intelligence has emerged as a powerful tool in revolutionising the field of mental healthcare, reshaping the way mental health conditions are understood, diagnosed, and treated.

AI is certainly high on the current news agenda, spurred by advances in technologies such as ChatGPT, many argue that AI promises to bring exciting new tools that can only benefit more people and improve access to therapy.

Digital technology is already transforming the delivery of healthcare. In mental health, apps offer easily accessible psychoeducation and CBT-based therapies from anywhere in the world. Virtual reality is providing new and effective ways of diagnosing depression, and chatbots are delivering basic talking therapy and conducting assessment interviews.

We need better and more accessible treatment options

Depression and anxiety are everywhere. For the most part, they are invisible to us, but we know from experience that people can find it difficult to talk about their mental health. We also know that care is becoming increasingly difficult to access at the point of use – there are an estimated 1.2 million people on NHS waiting lists for mental health care, many of whom may have to wait months or even years to get the care they need.

We need better and more accessible treatment options because we are dealing with serious conditions. Technology and artificial intelligence may have an important role to play in the future of therapy.

In a fascinating Ted Talk, Andy Blackwell discusses how the use of AI in mental health care is delivering compelling results for tens of thousands of his patients. He argues that analysing medicinal treatment methods for depression and anxiety can tell us what works for certain groups of people and certain types of symptoms. However, working out what type of treatment works well for an individual might take years of trial and error and may not lead to long-term recovery.

This raises the question, “Wouldn’t it be better if we could get it right the first time?”

AI-driven therapy can provide quicker diagnosis and better outcomes

AI-powered therapy allows us to forensically analyse the actual content of therapy using data points. Using a data-driven approach, clinicians can receive immediate feedback after a counselling session to be able to prescribe the right treatment for that specific patient in seconds – whether that be CBT therapy, medicinal treatment, or different psychotherapy options.

We can challenge ourselves to high expectations in mental health care. Tailoring treatment that recognises types of mental health issues may lead to significantly better outcomes for patients and crucially, this can be done remotely which reduces the strain on the NHS.

Offering better access to mental health care through AI-driven platforms not only provides better wellbeing outcomes but also has the potential to reach a wider audience – perhaps those who are struggling in silence and are put off by the idea of face-to-face therapy.

For example, there are plenty of men out there who would be far more likely to share their feelings and symptoms on a mental health therapy app from the comfort of their own home, than admit they need help and seek out regular in-person therapy sessions.

What are the risks?

Artificial intelligence holds great promise for improving the delivery of mental healthcare worldwide, but only if humans are put at the heart of its design, development, and use – that’s according to new guidance from the World Health Organisation.

One of the concerns many psychologists have is that once you make a computer anthropomorphic – that is to say ‘human-like’ – people will become attached to it and quickly begin to phase out the human element of mental healthcare. We’ve known this since the late 1960s when MIT created ‘ELIZA’, an early chatbot prototype that captivated its target audience to such an extent that patients became problematically attached.

No one is suggesting AI-powered therapy is coming for our counsellor’s jobs or that society is on the verge of a post-apocalyptic Skynet-style situation. However, we do need to be careful in developing AI therapy systems that are exclusively aiding and assisting the irreplaceable human experience in allowing people to open up sincerely to other people and talk about their mental health challenges.

The fact that 1.2 million people are on NHS waiting lists is as much a socio-political problem as it is a problem for technology to solve. Governments and organisations should be investing in community mental health and wellbeing services, as well as workplace assistance programmes to create a safety net for everyone to benefit from. 

Supporting your organisation's mental health challenges

With a Health Assured Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), we can offer you practical advice and support with mental health in the workplace when it comes to dealing with anxiety, and depression, and how to improve your work-life balance.

Our EAP provides guidance and supports your employees with their mental health in the workplace and at home. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all.

We support your employee's mental wellbeing with any problems they might be facing in their professional or personal lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.


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