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Categories: depression

Opening Up To A Robot? How Mental Health Tech Can Help Patients

Click here to view original web page at www.forbes.com
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President and CEO of Lucid Lane. Software technology expert and digital health advocate.

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Who knows more about your inner life — your therapist...or your phone? A recent survey suggests that many people may actually prefer to "talk" to a chatbot or other AI program about their mental health struggles. In fact, only 18% of people surveyed preferred to talk to a human about their problems, meaning that 82% would prefer to talk to a robot.

The fact that many people are willing to confide in an artificial intelligence program has been well-established. As far back as 1966, when Joseph Weizenbaum, an MIT professor, created Eliza, one of the first therapy chatbots, Weizenbaum was startled to discover how quickly people formed emotional connections with the tool.

My company specializes in teletherapy for patients seeking help with medication tapering from opioids or benzo usage. We recommend AI bots as part of a comprehensive, tech-enabled toolkit to bridge patients during difficult periods between appointments with a live therapist. AI tools also help our therapists flag major warning signs — like analyzing the tone of someone’s voice for signs of rising depression — for timely interventions.

Even today, the idea that many people prefer to discuss their mental health with an automated tool is still surprising. But experts say that the use of a tech tool may decrease the patient’s worry about being judged and make it easier to talk about potentially sensitive topics.

Fighting the stigma around mental health issues and substance use disorders

While the stigma around mental health struggles in general is decreasing, it’s still a real barrier to seeking treatment for many people. Today, stigma may be a particular problem for young people: Young adults ages 18-34 are actually less likely than older adults to agree with the statement that mental health disorders are nothing to be ashamed of and more likely to say that mental health issues don’t require treatment.

Different mental health disorders also carry different levels of stigma. People who are suffering from substance use disorder, for example, are more often considered to be responsible for their own problems than people who are struggling with anxiety or depression. It’s still difficult for many people to admit that they are overusing or abusing alcohol or prescription drugs, and for good reason — that stigma is real and persistent. As many as 4 out of 5 Americans with opioid use disorder don’t seek treatment, in large part because that stigma persists, even among many health care providers.

It’s that lingering stigma that makes AI such a promising new tool in the toolbox for mental health providers. Stigma and feelings of shame can be barriers to seeking treatment, so AI tools may be particularly useful in aiding people who are struggling with mental health issues begin to get help. If people can first confide their feelings and issues to an AI tool, they may be more likely to be fully honest, because they know that a robot won’t judge them. AI tools may be particularly useful as onboarding tools if they reduce these concerns and help people get over that first hurdle of admitting that they need help.

AI robots don’t judge and help patients practice opening up

If AI tools reduce patients’ fear of being judged, they may also be particularly useful in helping people dealing with medication dependence and substance abuse disorder get help. As many as 23% of people have lied to their doctors in the past, most often about commonly stigmatized behaviors like drinking, smoking and sexual activity. It may be easier for patients to admit the true extent of their dependence to a robot rather than a human they may assume will judge them.

AI tools can also help patients overcome some other potential barriers to seeking treatment. Many potential mental health patients are concerned about confidentiality. It may take time for them to build the trust necessary to be fully honest with a human therapist. If these patients can provide information about their concerns, their behavior and their challenges to an AI tool first, or as a supplement to human-to-human therapy, these tools could help therapists more quickly get crucial information about how patients are really doing. AI tools can efficiently screen for warning signs of a crisis and alert the human therapist if a serious issue needs to be addressed right away, or a patient needs additional support, even as the therapist and patient are still getting to know one another and building trust.

The use of AI tools in mental health treatment can also help overcome another major barrier to seeking treatment: cost. Roughly a third of Americans who want to seek mental health treatment say that cost or lack of insurance coverage are holding them back. AI tools can serve as a low-cost entry point for new patients, allowing them to access some basic information about their condition and alerting them when they need to speak to a human therapist for a more complicated or severe problem. These tools can also serve as an ongoing supplement to work with a human therapist, giving patients a daily touchpoint for additional support between appointments.

AI tools will never replace human therapists. But AI tools can be useful in onboarding new patients and can serve as a supplement to a therapist’s care. These tools will be particularly useful for patients who are more likely to be held back by stigma or fear of judgment, including younger adults and people struggling with substance use. They can also help cost-sensitive patients access a basic level of support and learn more about what treatments might be useful and when escalation to a human therapist is recommended.

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April🌞Starr

Honest, good-hearted, love to write ,love to smile, I'm a mental health advocate and I believe in the lord

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April🌞Starr