chatbots

Role of artificial intelligence chatbots in ensuring access to mental healthcare

Mental well-being is fundamental to living an optimal life. Everyone should have access to quality mental healthcare and technology has to be used to make this happen

As humans, we are supposed to be resilient, adaptive and accept change. ‘Take things in your stride’, is conventional wisdom. Now that we are all living under the shadow of an unseen microbial threat, we have to deal with a lot of worries, risks and challenges simultaneously. What makes things even more challenging is the lack of access to mental healthcare and support in times like these. In India, we have an average of 0.03 mental health experts per 100,000 people. The country’s mental health scenario is really gloomy and the best, as well as the fastest way to improve the situation, is by augmenting the existing resources with advanced technology. This is where the integration of mental health support chatbots is taking things forward in the right direction.

As we already observed, the pandemic has created all sorts of mental health challenges necessitating access to professionals. However, the extremely low number of qualified psychiatrists and mental health workers make the universal access solely through conventional mediums almost impossible.

Today, smartphone and internet have become accessible to people all over India and even in the remotest regions, it is not difficult to access the online world. Thus, internet-based solutions like chatbots can support mental healthcare providers by enhancing their reach and coverage. These Machine Learning based chatbots can deliver counselling and advice on common challenges and stress factors alongside generating data that can be further analysed by experts to plan whether the person needs mental health therapy and in which manner.

Eliminating stigma and making mental healthcare accessible

Irrespective of where a person is located, there is a great prevalence of mental health taboos and stigma in all societies. A large number of people equate mental health issues with madness and inability of a person to perform regular tasks. Chatbots are a great way to overcome such stigma. By using a chatbot integrated in a smartphone app, people find it easier to monitor their symptoms and conditions compared to visiting a psychiatrist for initial consultations. In a lot of cases, the conversations with chatbots on a smartphone app- based platform can help in diagnosis as well as delivery of accurate advice which reduces the burden on the actual mental health professionals and allows them to connect with a much larger audience than what would be possible in the scenario of in-person appointments. There are various reasons why people hold back from meeting a psychiatrist especially when they might not even be aware of their mental health problems. These include:

  • Lack of a mental health policy and initiatives by the government.
  • Lack of community support.
  • Absence of coordination between stakeholders.
  • Lack of qualified professionals and training facilities.
  • Gender bias.
  • The high cost of mental healthcare.
  • Lack of diagnosis.
  • Prevalence of conventional practices and stigma.
  • An AI chatbot can help in engaging a person in meaningful conversations. It helps in accessing positive and happy content which can help a person feel relieved of the immediate anxiety of stress they may be facing. It can also help suggest whether the person may require counselling.

Conclusion

Under the current circumstances, mental healthcare access has become a critical need for all people. The rise of AI chatbots in mental health consultations is going to make the latter accessible and affordable for everyone, eliminating geographical and stigma-related barriers. They will also help reduce the burden on professionals by allowing them to safely deliver consultations anywhere in the world. Chatbots are definitely set to play the role of an enabler in quality mental healthcare in the years ahead in India and globally!

By Shumita Kakkar, Founder, United We Care

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