Now Chatbots are essaying the role of a Therapist to deal with Mental Health Issues due to COVID-19
The morbid coronavirus has introduced the world to a new set of challenges. Every day there are hundreds of thousands of new positive cases across the globe. While the physical impact of COVID-19 can be assessed and treated, the mental impact is often ignored. A large number of people are experiencing emotional breakdowns, feel nervous, tense, stressed, and lonely, and having panic attacks, anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. All these, occupied with fear of losing livelihood, freedom to go out, worry about the health of oneself and loved ones, stigma towards either people who have tested COVID-19 positive, or are suffering from harmless common cold or flu and overwhelming urge to hoard essentials are adding up the mental struggle woes. Things are further pathetic for people with a history of poor mental health conditions. According to Statista, on May 31, approx. twenty-eight percent of respondents in the United States stated that their mental health is among their main concerns about the COVID-19. As a mental illness crisis that has worsened during the past six months, experts are turning towards AI solutions that can offer hope to these people to improve their mental state, or at least to keep it balanced. One of the most sought applications is Chatbot.
The importance of chatbots is increasing because they can offer information, suggestive, or be an AI listener without any hassles. Also, while online mental health consultation services take high charges, seem intimidating, chatbots are mostly free of cost, are available 24/7, with an emphasis on the privacy of the users. Researchers have discovered that people are comfortable in talking to avatars than a therapist or online service providers. AI chatbot also helps in areas where physical accessibility is not possible. Generally, these chatbots are fed with mock transcripts from counselors, physicians that allow them to deal with a wide array of issues. Other than pandemic caused mental illness, WHO (World Health organization) includes depression, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychoses, dementia, intellectual disabilities, and developmental disorders like autism in the scrolls of common mental disorders.
Woebot, a chatbot created by a team of Stanford psychologists and AI experts, uses brief daily chat conversations, mood tracking, curated videos, and word games to help people manage mental health. It is built on a platform of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT uses structured exercises to encourage a person to question and change their habits of thought—a format well suited to a step-by-step software guide or chatbot. Woebot can help patients manage mental health conditions by changing the way they think and behave by enabling patients to reframe their negative thoughts into positive ones using natural language processing, clinical expertise, and light-hearted daily talk intended to create a therapeutic experience for the user.
There is another chatbot, Wysa, which was developed by company Touchkin using Facebook Messenger as the user interface, in collaboration with researchers from Columbia and Cambridge universities. This AI-based mental and emotional wellness app responds to the emotions a user expresses and uses evidence-based CBT, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), meditation, breathing, yoga, motivational interviewing, and micro-actions to help build mental resilience skills. This currently free chatbot has a cute penguin for a chatbot, who pops up from time to time on the mobile screen to inquire about how one is feeling at a particular moment.
While the usage of chatbots is relatively new, some of them have proved to be a huge asset during the current COVID-19 pandemic times. Experts predict that soon chatbot may be handy for patients with other extreme mental disorders and people who are trying to recover from drug addiction. Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and higher speed Internet connectivity, chatbots are becoming a viable and effective method for getting mental health services while overcoming the barriers of mental health stigmas.