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Current Overview of Technology and AI in Mental Health

Mental health has long been treated through anti-depressants and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), however in a postmodern era, technology is quickly becoming the new frontier in supporting mental health needs.


As an example, AI within Apps downloaded on to smartphones is commonly used to both help diagnose mental health disorders and to help some of the symptoms. Apps can help combat some causes of depression and anxiety such as sleep problems, whereas other apps may give users techniques to identity their worries.


Apps for mental health, although not a new thing, have moved on from merely asking the user questions about how they perceive their sleep patterns to be and how often they are active, and noting thoughts down in an online diary format. Apps and smartphones, through GPS and movement detection can now detect low levels of movement and limited periods of activity, one of the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used to diagnose mental illness. Similarly, apps made my company’s such as Cognito can monitor and analyse a users calling and texting behaviour to see how socially connected they are, another criteria in a number of mental health illnesses such as depression, social anxiety disorder and PTSD. Apps like these can therefore become part of a tool in diagnosing mental health illnesses but also highlighting issues that may not be as noticeable to the user.


There are issues with the affordability of some apps as many do charge monthly for the use. There is also the issue with accessibility; young people (as part of Generation Z born 1995-2012) are seen to be easier to reach through digital media and technology. However, those from Generation Y, X or before may not be as tech savvy as the digital natives of this generation and are more likely to be untrusting of AI technologies.


The use of technologies is often cited as being a cause for some mental disorders, particularly the use of social media by Generation Z.


Counterintuitively the technology that may be causing the problems might also have a positive outcome and provide part of the cure. Instagram has been named one of the worst social media platforms for mental health; nonetheless, researchers from Harvard University were able to use Instagram posts to detect depression through analysis of which filters are commonly used by a user and face algorithms.


Facebook have recently debuted Woebot, available through Facebook Messenger, as a chatbot for users who may be looking for support to deal with anxiety and depression. Woebot is completely robotic and can be used as little or as much as needed, removing the need to book appointments with therapists (which may only be once a week) by having an online therapist exactly when needed.


It can therefore be questioned as to whether the use of AI/ technology in mental health and care will wholly replace the use of doctors and therapists, or whether this will be used as a supplement to help alongside this care.




Published by Atlantic Speaker Bureau 07 August 2017