More than 50 million adults in the United States experienced a mental health illness in 2021, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you have anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress, you most certainly are not alone.
We see it everywhere and experience it ourselves — mental health issues are on the rise compared with recent years. In addition to lingering isolation from the pandemic, how can we not feel the incredible emotional and mental impact of huge global concerns like international conflict and unrest in our own country, on top of social media pushing images, videos and sounds into our feeds we didn’t ask for? These devices, ostensibly designed for improved connection, have a way of making us feel more disconnected than ever before.
Why Mental Health Is Crucial
Prioritizing our mental and physical well-being should top on our to-do lists. Yet according to a 2023 State of Mental Health in America study, 55 percent of adults with a mental illness have not received treatment. Fear of judgment for seeking treatment, lack of accessibility to a provider and financial barriers are just a few reasons individuals with mental health conditions are reluctant to seek professional help.
Given all that, it’s tempting to consider AI as a mental-health resource. Artificial intelligence can write college essays and complicated code. It can contribute to productivity in business areas such as predictive maintenance for equipment, customer service chatbots and supply-chain management. AI comes in handy when processing data quickly and making algorithm-based decisions — including dumping excessive ads and targeted marketing content into our social media feed — are all that’s required to get the job done.
Experimenting with AI to support your mental health is attractive because it’s easily accessible, often more affordable and can feel more comfortable for those people not ready to share personal details face-to-face with a therapist.
Proceed with caution, though. Before you fire your therapist and hire a robot to help with your mental health challenges, here are three reasons AI isn’t ready to solve your mental health issues.
People Are More Complex Than AI
If scientists are still uncovering new data on the brain in 2023, how is AI able to fully understand how the human mind works? Mental health is a complex phenomenon influenced by a variety of factors including biology, psychology, social environment and past experiences.
Because AI systems are still being developed, they, like human scientists, are still trying to understand all of the factors contributing to mental health, making it difficult to accurately diagnose or treat mental health conditions.
AI Has Data Issues
The data coming out is only as good as the data going in. If the data that is used to train an AI system is biased, then the system will be biased as well. This could lead to misdiagnosis, particularly for groups of people who are already marginalized or underserved.
For example, if an AI system is trained on data that is mostly from people who are white, middle-class and cisgender, then it is more likely to misdiagnose people who are from different backgrounds. This is because the system will not have been trained on the symptoms and experiences of people from these groups.
AI Lacks Empathy
AI lacks empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Empathy is important for mental health diagnosis because it allows clinicians to build trust and rapport with patients and to understand their experiences in a holistic way.
I remember telling my therapist, “I think I’m doing OK” and she replied, “I can hear distress in your voice.” Most AI tools are not able to pick up on intricate verbal or nonverbal cues, as well as somatic symptoms like fatigue that could accompany depression.
All this said, much research is being done on how to use AI to improve mental health care. “Artificial intelligence is an important opportunity to complement other solutions to mental health issues, Nicole Yeasley, co-founder and COO of KindWorks.ai, told me.
AI, she says, “does not replace the importance of human-to-human interactions that drive human nature and are essential to maintain strong mental health. But AI can augment those deeper human interactions with ongoing lower touch support to improve mental health — like nudges, reminders, exercises and education.”
In the future, AI will play an important role in mental health care. As the data improves, AI-powered monitoring tools will help improve access to mental health care and support mental health professionals.
However, remember that AI is not a replacement for human mental-health professionals. Consider this your sign. Find a therapist. Schedule the appointment. Meet even if it feels like you don’t need to. We all have something to talk about that cannot be solved by a computer.