A Mind Of Its Own: AI And Mental Health

By Henry Silva, AI developer

Mental health is among the most important aspects of health care these days — and the Covid-19 pandemic has only made it more critical.

Almost one in five Americans will deal with a mental health condition at some point in their lives, a number we can expect to see rise due to the stressful conditions of quarantine most of us have endured. And members of underrepresented communities are especially at risk of dealing with critical mental health conditions, given that these groups have 10 percent less access to mental health treatment when compared to American whites. According to the Household Pulse Survey, the percentage of adults experiencing anxiety or depression disorders increased by almost 30% from 2019 to 2021. This begs the question: can technology help us cope with mental illness?

The answer is yes. A large part of current AI research is directed towards understanding the human brain and trying to come up with clever ways to improve general mental health.

AI has provided major breakthroughs in making effective predictions regarding patients with mental illnesses. Researchers at Vanderbilt University successfully trained AI that, using data from previous occurrences, accurately identified which patients with histories of self-harm eventually attempted further self-harm. This could mean that, in the near future, we would be able to detect and provide help for these patients at a much faster and efficient pace. And this improvement is vital, since mental health issues also present significant economic problems, especially for underrepresented communities that have less access to aid regarding those issues, such as Black, Latino, and LGBTQ+ groups.

AI algorithms, which use historical data from our devices and other sources, are also being used to detect patients that might develop mental disorders in the future. A recent study proved that it is possible to detect signs of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and PTSD by studying the speech patterns and facial expressions of patients. These AI models could become important tools for doctors and other mental and physical health providers in assisting patients and preventing the further development of mental disorders.

But can these algorithms replace human health care workers? And, more specifically, can these programs replace workers from the Black and Latino communities that comprise a significant percentage of the health care workforce?

Most experts agree that total human replacement is extremely unlikely for the near future. Instead of replacing us, AI will take the role of an assistant, helping our health care services get faster and more efficient at saving lives.

Experts argue that we should see these new technologies not as threats to human workers, but as tools for improving the efficacy of their work. Given current technology, experts agree that AI will not be replacing human therapists or counselors any time soon.

When talking about mental health, AI is here to help us improve our work. And this improvement, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, is important and much-needed. We hope to see this technology support the health and well-being of local community members.

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