It seems Artificial Intelligence (AI) is finding uses across every aspect of life these days. And it is. Now, AI is being applied to mental health across all ages.
In Canada, by age 40, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 50% of people will have had a mental illness. Depression affects 5% of the population and around 4.6% of Canadians suffer from an anxiety disorder. The pandemic hasn’t helped. One of the challenges of the pandemic was being able to connect with a psychiatrist or psychologist as well. Many people rely on their employer-based benefits or bear the personal cost of private services. Canadians spend an estimated $950 million a year on psychologists in private practice. About 30% of this is paid out-of-pocket while the remainder is paid through employment-based private health insurance plans.
Now, some technology companies are seeing some degree of success using AI to help in treatment. Ellipsis and another company, Kintsugi have developed AI tools that help people take control of their mental health while also supporting clinicians who are seeing a surge in demand. The tool helps by generating a science-based assessment of stress, depression and anxiety in less than 60 seconds from a person’s natural speech.
Ellipsis’ software analyses what is being said using Natural Language Processing (a form of Artificial Intelligence) and how it is being said using acoustics such as tone, cadence and timing. It can even be used through a smartphone. It is primarily a screening tool, but can help triage patients and recognise the levels of distress to better inform a treatment plan.
Another use that’s emerging is emotional diagnostics, particularly through smartphones. The goal of this use of AI is to identify emotional health concerns before they happen. One example is “smart journaling” where the app can capture someones state of mind through word patterns and moods expressed. The app can then provide tips to help the person improve their mood or offer ways to find help. Some of these apps can be integrated with a therapist for part of treatment plans.
Then there’s chatbots, or bots. Chatbots are a software application where you can “chat” via text and sometimes voice, with an Artificial Intelligence application, either on a smartphone or via computer. One company, LifeClips, has launched a chatbot app called Aiki, which can be integrated into a companies health and wellness program and made available to employees. It’s still too early to say if these will be effective or not.
For now, the main use of AI in mental health is for diagnosis and it can play a vital role in triage and supporting an over-extended healthcare system in Canada.
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