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AI and Chatbots: Are They the Future of Mental Healthcare?


If you could rate your mental health on a scale of 10, what would that be? If it’s anything from 8 to 10 – it means you are doing a good job taking care of your mental and emotional well-being. Anything from 4 to 7 – suggests you are struggling to somehow maintain your mental peace. And if you have rated anything between 0 to 3 – it means you need external help and it’s time you pause whatever you are doing and care for your mental health before it’s too late.

There are many things that are affecting mental health care support from reaching the people in need.

So, What Are Those Barriers?

First, there is this mental healthcare-associated stigma that’s stopping patients from getting the care and treatment they badly need. Second is the fear of exposing one’s inner fears and secrets to a complete stranger. Third, but important is the lack of availability of mental health care professionals. Today, Coronavirus turning everybody’s world upside down is one of the top contributors to the rising mental health-related concerns and illnesses.

To further elaborate on the third point, there is a huge gap between the number of patients suffering from mental health concerns and the number of mental healthcare professionals that these patients can reach out to. So much so that, in developed countries, the ratio of mental health care professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, psychiatrist social workers, and mental health care nurses to patients is 1:10,0000. With such a number, how can we expect and ensure that timely mental health care support reaches the ones that badly need it?

This is where technology has stepped in to extend its support to the mental health care professionals in helping patients deal with their mental health concerns and disorders.

In other words, various tech companies from across the world are joining their hands to help patients battle against their mental health concerns. How are they doing that?

Here’s the answer: with the help of AI and chatbots.

With This, the Question Arises: Are Chatbots Really the Future of Mental Healthcare?

Leave aside mental healthcare concerns for the time being! Imagine you live alone and you are heading back to your lonely home after a very tiring day! How nice would it be if there was somebody to ask you – how your day was? As human beings, sometimes this kind of care and support is all we need – somebody to talk to and vent about our daily happenings. 

And for people who have nobody to turn to, chatbots can become their extended family, friend, or whatever name you want to give it. Yes, there are many chatbots out there today that aim to offer timely mental health care support. These chatbots were specifically developed to proactively keep an eye on the patients, listen to them, chat with them, and most importantly suggest activities to improve the patients’ overall mental well-being.

Simply put, these AI-powered chatbots are acting as the first-line support for patients with mental health issues. 

Can You Trust These Chatbots?

The answer is yes. However, be careful about the mental health care apps that you rely on. Because while some applications are carefully designed and executed under the supervision of mental healthcare professionals, others may not be. So, consult a mental health care professional before you place your trust in any of the mental health care chatbots or applications. 

How Do These Chatbots Work?

Chatbots rely on Natural Language Processing (NLP) based frameworks. And this is what helps them to interact with human beings. This interaction may be in the form of:

  • Speaking
  • Written communication – chat messages, or
  • Even employing visual elements to communicate like showing pictures with dialogues  

And experts opine that “suicide prediction and prevention, identification of predictors for a response, and identifying which particular drug is best suited for a particular patient are some of the areas where AI powered-chatbots have been found to be useful in psychiatry.”

The Pros of Mental Healthcare Chatbots

These AI-powered chatbots support patients while offering them a high level of privacy and anonymity. Thereby, overcoming the 2nd problem as mentioned earlier – why people shy away from getting the mental health support they need.

These chatbots can be your best companions. Unlike human beings, they never get tired. They can listen to you 24/7 and talk/chat with you non-stop from anywhere, any time. Not just that, some carefully designed chatbots can even offer personalized therapy that incorporates concepts like CBT, DBT, and mindfulness.

That being said, as the world marches toward more tech-based solutions, who knows in the coming days we may even see much more robust and effective AI-based chatbots and treatment platforms.

Is There Anything Worrisome with Chatbots Offering Mental Healthcare Support?

No doubt, some of the chatbots are supporting the overworked mental healthcare professionals by providing much-needed assistance to the patients in their place.

However, there is a limit to what these chatbots can do and offer. While they are extremely useful when it comes to diagnosing patients and engaging with them so that things don’t go out of hand, they cannot do more than that.

What’s the one thing that all human beings crave and look forward to? Yes, it’s companionship and empathy. Though chatbots won’t judge you for what you say, they may never be able to empathize as human beings can. There’s still a long way for chatbots to go. However, people are working towards cracking the empathy factor for chatbots. Only the future will reveal what these chatbots can do.

One more downside is that chatbots can be at your service 24/7. So, this means the chances of people getting overly attached and dependent on these chatbots are greater. Thereby, detaching them from other people and the world itself. And anything over can only do harm! 

In Conclusion 

Chatbots can prove to be extremely useful in helping with the initial diagnosis, early interventions, and alleviating certain mental health symptoms but cannot do more than that. 

And of course, the ability of chatbots to engage with patients anytime, anywhere can help efficiently monitor and manage mental health conditions – especially in terms of changing the way patients think and process information. They play a crucial role in altering their behavior by encouraging them to reframe their negative thoughts into positive ones. 

But note, mental health chatbots, and therapy apps are still in their very early stages. And they require more in-depth research and streamlining to ensure the proper treatment of patients. Though these chatbots may be an additional resource for patients seeking initial help, they cannot replace traditional therapy channels and the human connection that mental healthcare professionals provide. Also, it’s best not to let chatbots engage in therapies and treatment procedures because even one wrong move can turn out to be deadly to the patient. 

Chatbots may be transforming the future of mental healthcare. But the transformation is still in its earliest stages and there is a long way to go.

Samita Nayak
Samita Nayak
Samita Nayak is a content writer working at Anteriad. She writes about business, technology, HR, marketing, cryptocurrency, and sales. When not writing, she can usually be found reading a book, watching movies, or spending far too much time with her Golden Retriever.
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