Will AI Improve or Worsen Mental Health and Support?

There’s no denying that AI usage is on the rise, be it in manufacturing, education, cybersecurity, or even transport. But with this growing AI prevalence, should you be at all concerned about your mental health? Will AI improve or worsen mental health across the board?

How Can AI Improve Mental Health?

AI is already a big deal in a number of industries, including healthcare, transport, and finance. But you may not know that AI is also being experimented with in the mental health realm.

Through this, researchers may be able to find new ways of supporting mental health patients and developing better forms of treatment. At the time of writing, AI is still in its infancy in terms of mental health applications, but this technology has a lot of potential in the mental healthcare industry.

So, how, exactly, might AI prove useful here, and in what ways may it pose a risk?

Providing Instant Advice and Support Using AI

Finding a therapist can take a long time, and can even be an inaccessible option for some due to its high cost. So, when someone needs advice and support immediately, who can they turn to?

There are hotlines for those seeking support, but talking to a real person about your problems can be daunting. So, using artificial intelligence, an individual may be able to access advice remotely without having to talk to a real person. This can alleviate the social anxiety associated with discussing personal issues, while also ensuring that the person struggling receives some form of support.

While regular chatbots can be used in such a scenario, an AI-powered chatbot will likely have the ability to communicate in a more personal way, further understand a person’s issue, and provide possible solutions or avenues. We’ve already seen how the ChatGPT chatbot can interact with users, so there’s likely some potential here for patient support.

Of course, some may see using AI to provide mental health advice as risky. We’ll discuss the possible downsides of this a little later.

Monitoring Patient Progress With AI

person typing on laptop next to stethoscope on desk

Monitoring a patient’s progress to ensure they’re not taking steps backward is a very important step in recovery. While a human professional can do this well, the number of individuals requiring mental health support makes it difficult for human personnel to keep up with the demand.

This is where AI might be able to help. Using this technology, a patient could give inputs on how they’re feeling and what they’ve been doing, and an AI system could then assess and evaluate the information provided to determine whether there is any cause for concern. The AI system could then alert the relevant parties so that action can be taken. This may lower the occurrences of mental health negligence, as a far greater number of people could be assessed regularly without the need for a human professional.

But there are risks to consider here, and the AI system in use would have to be very thoroughly trained on how to spot possible red flags. Still, simply using this as an initial assessment could prove highly beneficial, both to doctors and patients.

Developing New Support Techniques With AI

There’s no denying that researchers are still working to further understand our brains and why they give way to mental illnesses. Not only is the origin of mental illness still being researched, but techniques on how to better treat patients are also being developed.

For example, an AI system may be able to take a batch of data about patient symptoms, triggers, or backgrounds, and then suggest new ways to help them make progress. This could be a medication suggestion, a kind of therapy, or similar.

On top of this, AI has been proven to detect the presence of mental illnesses with a relatively high rate of accuracy. In a 2019 psychiatry report by IBM and the University of California, it was stated that, when testing AI in mental illness detection, accuracy ranged from 62 to 92 percent (depending on the AI system and training data used). While the lower ends of this range aren’t too impressive, continued development may allow AI systems to reach a consistently high accuracy rate when detecting mental illnesses.

Though this all seems very promising, there are also dangers associated with using AI in the mental health field and other ways that AI can worsen mental health in general.

How Can AI Worsen Mental Health?

While AI has significant potential to improve mental healthcare, there are also risks and dangers in the adoption of this fast-evolving technology.

Increased Reliance on AI

Over the past few decades, the rise of smart technology has led many people to rely on phones, PCs, tablets, and other devices to simplify and enhance their lives. Whether they’re chatting on social media, streaming movies, browsing for new clothes, or simply getting some work done, technology usually stands as the backbone. Many people are even addicted to their smartphones or computers, which can have a huge impact on their lives.

So, when AI becomes prominent across various industries, it could have a detrimental effect on mental health. For instance, an individual may opt to use AI for their education, work, entertainment, and other elements of their social life. This, in turn, may lead to something of an AI addiction. There are already plenty of people addicted to social media, online shopping, and online gaming today, which can often give way to feelings of anxiety and very real social and financial problems.

Lack of Human Contact

Humans are, by nature, social beings. So, it can often be hugely beneficial to discuss your feelings with somebody else, instead of dealing with them alone.

But if AI becomes increasingly used in the mental health industry, accessing face-to-face treatment, such as talking therapy, may become even more challenging than it currently is. If AI is too frequently used as a replacement for human contact, a decline in recovery rates and patient progress may occur as a result.

hands reaching out to each other

At the moment, humans are seen as much more effective at conducting therapy than machines, and this may always be the case. This is why the application of AI in the mental health field should be regulated and monitored very carefully so that patients are still receiving the best care possible.

AI Giving Faulty Advice or Solutions

While AI is capable of some amazing things, it is also vulnerable to errors. This is a big concern when AI is being entrusted with people’s mental health. Misjudging someone’s state of mind, offering ineffective treatment, or misinterpreting important data could be catastrophic for the patient, so there are major considerations that need to be made here.

There are plenty of things that can go wrong while using AI, particularly as it is in its early stages. System malfunctions, software bugs, and improper training can all lead to issues, with malicious attacks also posing a possible risk.

AI’s Future in Mental Health Must Be Watched Carefully

AI has so much potential that it’s no secret why people are so excited about it. However, as is the case with any emerging technology, it is crucial that AI is not too quickly applied or outright misused. In mental healthcare, this could do more harm than good to patients. Time will tell if, or when, AI becomes a key element in the mental health industry and whether this turns out to be a blessing or a curse.

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