How Can AI Provide Accessible Mental Health Help?

The potential that artificial intelligence has for mental healthcare is enormous. What’s more, it allowed for the biggest obstacles in reaching for professional help – social stigma, high cost, accessibility – to be surmounted.
Read on to learn about how AI can be implemented in supporting your mental health, as well as the most acclaimed AI solutions that you can start using today.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

ai mental health

Illustration: Milica Mijajlovic

The state of mental health in 2022   

It’s been a rough couple of years. Needless to remind you what the world has gone through since 2020 onward. The bad news is – it’s left severe consequences on our state of mind. The good news is – it’s really never been more accessible to get the needed help. 

Support comes in various forms but people are often discouraged to ask for help if it requires a lot of effort or change in their daily lives. That’s where AI steps in – sometimes a good conversation, someone who listens to you and asks you the right question is all you need. 

Now that we’re coming to the end of 2022, let’s see how the state of mental health looks worldwide, according to WHO’s report: 

  • One in 8 people globally lives with a mental health condition, which is around 13% of the global population or 970 million people.
  • 52.4% of them are females. 
  • 71% of people with psychosis don’t receive mental health services. 
  • The most common mental health disorders are anxiety (31%) and depressive disorders (28.9%). 
  • During 2020, the reported rise in anxiety and depressive disorders was at least 25-27%. 
  • One in every 100 deaths is caused by suicide, with an average of 20 attempts for every suicide.  
  • Worldwide, countries dedicate less than 2% of their healthcare budget to mental health support. 
  • In 2013, around 45% of all countries reported having a national mental health plan. The global goal is to reach 80% by 2030, but to this day it’s only risen to 51%. 
  • Over 80% of people with mental disorders live in middle- or low-income countries. 

From the above, we can conclude that in all these detected areas AI support for mental health can come in very handy. Of course, we don’t want to trivialize the importance of professional help for more severe symptoms, but most of us could really benefit from regular conversations about our mental health with AI tools developed with the supervision of professionals. 

Let’s see how this technology can be used for this purpose. 

How can AI be used in mental health?   

Therapy has widely moved online, whether through video calls with your therapist or by chatting with them. Over time, introducing AI for this purpose turned out to be effective, convenient and accessible, and users ended up loving this potential of artificial intelligence. 

That’s why we’ve witnessed a huge expansion of mental health startups that are using this exact technology to reach their goals and offer support to users. 

Oftentimes, “How did that make you feel?” is everything we needed to help us with solving the problem. 

This question is the one that will come up in all our conversations with an AI chatbot whose aim is to help us overcome a mental health challenge. At first, if you’re not used to having this kind of conversation, it may feel a bit weird but you’ll soon realize the power of articulating your thoughts and feelings. 

These are often cited as the most beneficial advantages of introducing AI into mental health: 

  • It’s cheaper than traditional therapy or even free; 
  • It’s accessible to users whenever they need help, even in the middle of the night, and on every part of the planet if they have Internet access; 
  • For many users, especially those new in therapy, it’s easier to open up to a chatbot than to a person; 
  • People tend to believe that robots don’t judge and are unbiased, compared to humans; 
  • Many people who don’t have severe symptoms are only looking for occasional support and don’t want to dedicate their time to regular therapy; 
  • It’s empowering to always have a mental health support assistant on your device in case you’re in need of someone to back you up a few times during the day; 
  • It doesn’t require strict calendar planning or waiting for your meeting, and you can get immediate responses to health-related questions; 
  • It’s often difficult to find a therapist that suits your personality, along with an acute shortage of mental health professionals; 
  • It’s a great first step for anyone hesitant to ask for professional help. 

Over the past few years, there have been some amazing technological breakthroughs, such as GPT-3, that allowed for AI technology to expand its use in the real world. 

What’s more, even if you’re not solemnly relying on AI solutions, they can allow for a transformation of the sector and improve the overall quality of mental health services, especially by equipping therapists with technology to automate their daily flow. 

Here’s how: 

  1. Machine learning and deep learning enable an accurate diagnosis of mental health conditions and can predict patient outcomes; 
  2. Moreover, they can be used for classifying disorders and optimizing patient plans; 
  3. Computer vision can be used for analyzing non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions, body postures, gaze and gestures; 
  4. Natural language processing (NLP) has proven to be beneficial in terms of conversation simulation and millions of users are already using chatbots for this purpose; 
  5. NLP can also be used to understand clinical documentation. 

Now, it’s important to emphasize here that, although chatbots such as ChatGPT can also be used to simulate human conversation, it doesn’t come close to AI solutions specially designed for this purpose with the help of a mental health professional. 

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In the next paragraph, we’ll dive deeper into examples of these solutions. 

AI in therapy: Best examples   

Although it’s a good thing that we hear the term “mental health” so often, the conversation seems superficial in a way, considering there’s still a huge stigma around it. Who knows if we’ll ever in our lifetime be able to speak freely about mental health challenges with our family, colleagues, or strangers. 

We still consider it a very personal thing and it’s uncomfortable to articulate or admit there’s a problem, sometimes even to ourselves. For these exact reasons, people often avoid reaching out to a professional, claiming it’s nothing serious. Well, this attitude is in fact preventing us from living a life we’re fully satisfied with. 

Rather than accepting it for what it is, a huge improvement in the quality of your life would be simply relying on an AI tool designed to help you in your struggles. After all, you won’t lose anything by giving it a go. 

These are the most acclaimed AI solutions for mental health, along with their functionalities and other details: 

  • ieso – Online platform that’s using machine learning to identify language patterns. They use this data to improve patient treatment. According to these results, they have 1/3 higher recovery rate compared to face-to-face therapy and have reduced waiting lists by 30%. 
  • Youper – AI therapy app that combines telemedicine and AI to improve patient engagement and overall mental health services. One study analyzed the results of this app and found a 24% decrease in anxiety and 19% in depression among users. It includes self-assessments and exercises for emotional regulation. 
  • Sober Risk – An app used to predict risks of relapse by analyzing the user’s language. It’s a pre-trained algorithm, able to detect when the relapse is about to happen based on the communication that precedes it, and offers support in the form of cognitive behavior therapy or enables access to a professional. 
  • Trycycle – A similar app to the one mentioned above, and it uses language patterns to detect possible relapse. It encourages the user to regularly submit journal entries, but also allows for the clinician to have real-time access to patient information.

Keep in mind that all relevant AI mental health solutions must be created with important considerations in mind, such as cybersecurity, data transparency, accredited AI, and algorithms developed with mental health specialists. All of the listed solutions are in line with these points. 

In conclusion, we should also tackle the common disbelief that chatbots are lacking human empathy, which is definitely correct. However, users worldwide did report developing an emotional connection with a chatbot they were regularly communicating with, which has also been a subject of many books, movies, and TV shows. 

A journalist by day and a podcaster by night. She's not writing to impress but to be understood.