Artificial Intelligence Will Save The Mental Health Care Crisis

With 2019 right around the corner, hearing that one out of four adults is currently dealing with mental health issues is a statistic that is hard to swallow. Worse still, sixty percent of them aren’t getting the treatment they need. It goes without saying that the numbers are too high.

According to the World Health Organization, people wait up to thirty years to get the help they need. On top of that, a research concluded that perceptions of public stigma decrease willingness to seek for help.

Stigma and preconceived notions about what it means to have a mental health issue emerge from misconceptions and are more likely to be endorsed by people with a lower level of education. While the fight to eliminate stigma is in full swing, the state of mental health care in the US is in shambles.

What Stops People From Getting Help

Stigma, or perceived stigma, is a significant barrier for anyone with a mental health issue. While people, in general, increasingly accept mental health issues, those facing the issues have a hard time believing it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seventy-five percent of people living with mental health issues don’t believe that others will be sympathetic to their problems.

Hypothetically speaking, even if we somehow got rid of the stigma, we’d still have two factors significantly affecting access — availability, and cost. Furthermore, availability breaks into two categories: location of the therapist and their available time.

Location marginalizes many people who don’t live near a therapist, particularly those in rural areas. Without professionals nearby, they have no one to support them. If a professional is in the region, time for new patients is scarce. When an opening is available, the cost of treatment excludes anyone unable to pay the fees, allowing only a small number to have access.

The common assumption here is that the insurance will cover it, but that’s complicated. Many therapists are currently not accepting health insurance due to the low compensations received from insurers, making visits 100% out-of-pocket. Not an easy pill to swallow when prices range from $75–150 and are higher in major cities.

This trend leads to a lack of treatment or inconsistent sessions at best. Sporadic time with a professional eliminates the consistency a patient needs to progress.

Looking at the current state of the mental health landscape, one can’t help but wonder if there is any solution that can solve all three problems.

The Therapist Is In Your Pocket, Literally

The idea of using Artificial intelligence (AI) to help people deal with their mental health battles isn’t a brand new idea. The first chatbot therapist, ELIZA, was created in 1964. However, big companies that are working on ELIZA’s modern offspring aren’t executing very well.

Research by Stanford psychiatrist Adam Miner reports that companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon aren’t currently training their personal assistants how to effectively respond to serious mental health queries.

With big companies moving slow, startups are prepared to fill the need and serve the people who are ready for solutions that eliminate the common barriers and deliver the best that technology has to offer.

Alongside two friends, a psychiatrist (Jose Hamilton) and a designer (Diego Dotta), I created Youper to be the first-responder for emotional health problems for people all over the world and to ensure that no one has to wait years to address their issues.

Just like Google became our second intellectual brain, Youper is becoming our second emotional brain: a personal assistant that users love and feel compelled to share with people they care about. Check what people are talking about it on Twitter.

Youper uses artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize techniques drawn from different psychological therapies, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Meditation, to fit the users’ needs and style.

I believe that advances in AI and Natural Language Processing present a unique opportunity to reduce the barriers to access emotional wellbeing.

AI Is Here To Assist, Not Replace

AI Assistants aren’t trying to replace therapists, and I doubt they ever could. Neither is the creation of AI solutions an indication that therapists aren’t providing sufficient care for their patients.

I see apps like Youper as powerful allies alongside therapy and first responders for people that don’t have the access, resources, or time for traditional treatment. Also, it’s a stepping stone for those that lack the courage to do in-person therapy.

“Apps are in a great position to augment therapy and become part of an integrated care pathway. The potential to provide effective treatment to a large group that needs support is reason enough to explore these new solutions,” as our co-founder Jose Hamilton use to say.

It may seem counterintuitive to remove the human therapist from therapy in some moments, but it is just what some people need. Research reports that people are, in fact, more willing to open up in interactions with non-human agents. Without a person, the perception of judgment disappears, and it frees people up to be more honest and authentic about their issues.

Another bonus of using an app like Youper alongside therapy is access to the registered data. Mood tracking, journaling, sessions completed, number of sessions during a week, all of these can be shared with the therapist to provide insight into what a patient is doing outside of their time on the couch.

People Are Ready And Willing To Use AI

By eliminating the barriers that prevent people from getting the mental health treatment they need, AI is opening a massive door for mental health. When the alternative is not getting any treatment at all, talking to a robot has obvious advantages.

Some people question whether bots can really understand the user and if that would limit the effectiveness of the therapy. For now, Youper’s bot is trained to interact like a friend in a conversation. Even though occasionally less-than-perfect answers can occur, users have reported that Youper is so friendly that they sometimes forget they are talking to a bot.

To date, Youper has helped thousands of users to overcome emotional health issues, but I believe this is just getting started.

The future of AI in mental health is being created, and the potential is vast. With such alarming mental health statistics, it’s clear that new solutions are essential. AI is ready to take on the challenge to provide adequate treatment that eliminates or reduces stigma, increases access, and cut costs. Those are clear indications that AI has a future in mental health care.

Have you ever used a chatbot therapist? Would you? Let me know in the comments.