Artificial Intelligence Could Play Role In Building Global Mental Health Care Capacity

Project Syndicate: An Intelligent Approach to Mental Health
Junaid Nabi, public health researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

“…Globally, the supply of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists is nowhere near sufficient. … What could help are [artificial intelligence (AI)]-based solutions, such as chatbots. By mimicking natural language to sustain a conversation with a human user, these software systems could act as virtual therapists, providing guidance and support to those who have no alternatives. … The sort of provisional mental health care provided by chatbots would be particularly useful in communities with an inadequate supply of trained professionals. … Chatbots could also help overcome the stigma problem, because they can engage people who are otherwise reluctant to seek mental health care. … It is now up to clinicians, such as psychologists, to collaborate more extensively with AI developers. … To be sure, AI-enabled mental health interventions would not — and should not — replace human psychologists or psychiatrists. A chatbot cannot, after all, project real empathy. What it can do is screen for high-risk individuals, such as those with suicidal ideation, and potentially avert destructive behavior in the short term. … It is time to invest in long-term, cost-effective, and scalable solutions that build mental health care capacity. That effort must include expanded support for traditional services. But it should also take advantage of cutting-edge technologies like AI” (5/15).