Following mental health awareness week it is important to recognise that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England. Research is starting to uncover the complicated causes of these diseases which can include genetics, brain chemistry, brain structure, experiencing trauma and/or having another medical condition, like heart disease.
The Two Most Common Mental Health Issues:
Anxiety Disorders – More than 18% of adults each year struggle with some type of anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder (panic attacks), generalized anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
Mood Disorders – Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar depression, affect nearly 10% of adults each year and are characterized by difficulties in regulating one’s mood.
Yet, in many cases, we’re still relying on individuals to take the initiative and seek treatment, despite the continuing stigma against asking for help for mental health struggles, add to this the mental health challenges Covid-19 brings and one is forced to ask: How will we ever meet this growing need? Interestingly Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help. AI and machine learning have the potential to revolutionise the way we diagnose and treat mental health conditions. In the future, algorithms may be our first line of defense against the mental health struggles that can be debilitating for so many people.
Five Ways AI Can Help
1. Integrating Mental Health Care with Physical Health Care
Imagine a future where machine learning algorithms can alert doctors and surgeons that a patient is at risk of developing a serious mental health issue based on their existing medical records. One study has already had success predicting which of the patients who were brought into the hospital for self-injuries are likely to attempt suicide in the future.
2. Reducing Bias & Human Error
Algorithms have already been proven to be successful at detecting signs of conditions like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder by analyzing speech patterns and facial expressions. Mental and physical health providers could use these tools during patient intake meetings to serve as a backup. These meetings are usually very brief, and providers who are rushing from appointment to appointment might not notice when patients exhibit subtle signs of trouble.
3. Flagging Early Warning Signs
Your smartphone could alert your doctor that you’re at risk of depression based on how fast you’re typing or how often you’re leaving your house. In one study, algorithms using language analysis were 100% accurate at identifying teens who were likely to develop psychosis. These tools already exist, and they’re incredibly powerful.
Language analysis can also be used to monitor patients who are already in treatment and alert a doctor when they take a turn for the worse. Most patients don’t see a doctor or therapist every day, but answering a few daily questions online could help the app to detect early signs of trouble.
Timely interventions are crucial in many areas of mental health, especially in the field of medication dependence. AI tools can provide invaluable support to human providers and patients between appointments, creating daily checkpoints that can catch a downturn before it turns into a dangerous spiral.
4. Support Available 24/7
Chatbots and apps are accessible no matter where you live. They’re a low-cost, affordable treatment option. They’re always awake and on call. And some people may feel more comfortable sharing their struggles with an anonymous chatbot than a human being.
Of course, these tools are still new and experimental. But chatbots and other app-based tools for tracking and improving mood could be hugely beneficial, particularly for patients who would otherwise have trouble accessing care. There are already multiple smartphone-based tools that can walk patients through exercises based on cognitive behavioral therapy and other research-backed techniques for coping with symptoms. A chatbot could be a lifeline for a patient who’s struggling in the middle of the night.
5. Destigmatizing Mental Health
Making mental health diagnosis and treatment more quantifiable and less subjective could ultimately help destigmatize these conditions and improve outcomes. There’s no blood test for mental health conditions, but a machine learning algorithm could become a kind of equivalent — a research-based, “objective” test that makes the need to seek treatment less about a patient’s subjective experience of distress and more about evidence-based data and medical best practices.
Democratizing access to mental health treatment will almost certainly mainstream this kind of healthcare, too. The more people who seek treatment for mental health struggles or who know someone who has, the less mental health treatment will feel like a secret shame.
“The treatment of physical health conditions have long benefited from advances of technology, with devices such as X-Ray and MRI scanners revolutionising treatment. Now, as AI and machine learning technology evolves, it is important that we integrate it into the treatment of mental health, so those patients too may benefit from the advancement of technology.” – Dr Valentin Tablan, Senior Vice President of AI at Ieso.
There are a number of services available to anyone who is suffering from mental health issues, nobody has to struggle in silence. These are some of the organisations dedicated to help you:
- Mind – 0300 123 3393
- First Response NHS
- Samaritans – 116 124
- Nightline Association
- Counselling Directory
Forbes, (2020) ‘Five Ways AI Can Help Revolutionize Mental Healthcare’. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2020/08/19/five-ways-ai-can-help-revolutionize-mental-healthcare/?sh=52b4073c13ab [Accessed 13 May 2021].
PineRest, (2020) ‘The Importance of Mental Health Awareness’. Available at: https://www.pinerest.org/mental-health-awareness-blog/ [Accessed 13 May 2021]
IESO, (2020) ‘World’s first AI-enabled mental health treatment platform goes live’. Available at: https://www.iesohealth.com/en-gb/news/world-s-first-ai-enabled-mental-health-treatment-platform-goes-live [Accessed 13 May 2021].