“Good morning. How are you feeling today?” asks Youper, an AI-powered emotional health assistant app. Like a growing number of health tech services, the app seeks to address the growing rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and similar mental health issues. The AI company belongs to an industry both ripe for change and burgeoning with innovation: mental health tech.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, nearly 18% of American adults suffer from some form of mental illness, yet “only a fraction of those access the treatment that they need or could benefit from.” The growing demand for mental health tech directly coincides with an increasingly mentally ill population, coupled with growing income disparity. While mental illness is steadily increasing, fewer patients are able to afford out-of-pocket mental health services. Cue mental health AI: an affordable and easily accessible alternative, or supplement, to traditional mental health care.
Here are four ways AI is being used to transform mental health care:
Various companies are utilizing tech to help users create a regular mindfulness practice. Adam Miner—Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University—labels this group of tech as “conversational artificial intelligence,” as they work by engaging users in conversation. Youper, for instance, uses AI analytics to converse with users, track emotional stability, screen for depression, and facilitate mindful meditation. Since first launching in 2016, Youper has steadily increased its user database with a monthly download growth rate of 58.14%.
Other apps such as Calm and Ginger.io focus on providing users with targeted mindfulness practices to address various emotional health concerns. Ginger.io partners machine learning with a network of clinical professionals to track emotional progress. Rebecca Chiu, Head of Business Development at Ginger.io, states: “Using digital technology and machine learning, we can make behavioral health more accessible and convenient while reducing the stigma attached to traditional solutions.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), nearly 3.1% of the U.S. population is affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder; the rates are higher when combined with varying forms of anxiety disorders. A growing number of AI mental health tech apps have been created in an effort to address these statistics. Apps such as Moodpath track anxiety patterns by providing users with daily assessments: after two weeks of use, the app generates a document that can be shared with a health care professional. Pacifica is a health tech company that aims to help users “break cycles of unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and behaviors through methods such as CBT, mood tracking, and relaxation.” The anxiety-focused app uses audio lessons and daily challenges to help users track anxiety and chart progress.
According to the National Institute of Health, almost 8% of Americans suffer from PTSD. In order to combat this often neglected population of patients, health tech often utilizes a variety of traditional therapy approaches. Health tech app PE Coach works alongside therapists using prolonged exposure (PE) treatment and includes educational resources and breathing training tools to help therapists provide continuous care. Similarly, CPT Coach is designed to be used by patients receiving cognitive processing therapy (CPT) treatment. The app employs a variety of prompts and weekly tasks to coincide with in-person treatment.
Diagnosing Mental Illness
According to national health policy organization Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, “Nearly 40% of Americans live in areas designated by the federal government as having a shortage of mental health professionals; more than 60% of U.S. counties are without a single psychiatrist within their borders.” Because mental illness is often underdiagnosed, health technology—such as Quartet Health—help users monitor and detect undiagnosed mental health illness. Quartet Health utilizes machine learning to analyze a patient’s medical history and behavioral patterns to identify mental health problems, and recommends follow-ups with appropriate health care professionals.
While research on the long term impact of mental health tech remains fairly limited, initial results are providing both healthcare professionals and users with promising results.