AI Therapists Take on the Global Mental Health Challenge

November 12, 2020

Mental health was a major problem even before the pandemic, and well, it’s an even bigger problem now all over the globe.  You didn’t think moving from bed to desk to couch to bed was good for you, didja?  Ok, just checking.

The…robot will see you now.
What’s surprising is how people want to address their mental health issues.  According to a recent survey from Workplace Intelligence and Oracle, 82% of people surveyed thought that robots can support their mental health better than humans.  The survey was worldwide and included 12,000 workers. 

  • 68% prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work.
  • 80% were open to having a robot as a therapist or counselor.

The imperfect storm – mental health challenges and Covid-19
We all know that we’re in more a wave of mental health challenges as the pandemic and remote work wear us down to a nub.

So can conversational AI, the fancy term for chatbots, really help us?  The short answer is yes.  Medical chatbots may be preferable to people for a host of reasons including:

  • There is still a stigma associated with mental health, so chatbots provide some cover.
  • It’s actually feels more private talking to a chatbot about sensitive issues to avoid worry about risking promotions, pay raises or mot losing your job by opening up about your problems.
  • Some HR managers just don’t say the right things about these issues.

“Humans are not adequately trained on mental health issues. When people tell you they are stressed or depressed, we often give the wrong answers, and technology is a great way to scale some sequence of questions and best practices,” said Emily He, senior vice president of the human capital management in Oracle’s cloud business group.

Two startups that are big in the space
Woebot and Youper are two pioneers in the AI therapy and digital mental health counseling space. 

Alison Darcy, the founder of Woebot, told Gizmodo that the goofy but helpful chatbot therapist has a choose-your-own-adventure style that is helpful and makes it easier for people to talk about difficult things.  She adds that it is not intended to replace an actual human therapist. 

Similarly, Dr. Jose Hamilton founded Youper, and emphasizes that although not a replacement, the Youper “emotional health assistant” is useful because of the high cost of seeing a human therapist.  Also, like Woebot, the chatbot makes it easy to start talking about difficult issues and takes a personalized approach to each user.

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