The world welcomed the start of a new decade with a virus outbreak which quickly escalated into the global pandemic, COVID-19. We have seen the devastating impacts of it across the globe as its transmission has left businesses around the world in dire straits.
Mental Health & AI
July 22, 2020
July 22, 2020
Indeed, it is a stressful and trying period for many, as people have to deal with uncertainty over health, career and finances. Our support systems need to be strong now, more than ever. Mental wellbeing has been reportedly under-addressed with primary emphasis placed on more pressing matters such as virus containment and economic recovery in these times. On top of that, being on lockdown makes it harder for individuals to seek treatment or therapy in person and isolation may trigger or exacerbate certain mental health problems. This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) enabled chatbots come into play. AI makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. Businesses across a wide range of industries have incorporated conversational AI into their operations and product/service offerings today.
While a chatbot may not be the complete substitute for a counsellor or a therapist, it serves as an outlet for individuals to express their feelings and problems as the closest form of timely, semi-professional help one can get, especially during a pandemic. A virtual conversational agent can mimic human interaction and help to alleviate certain issues such as loneliness in individuals.
One such organisation which has adopted a chatbot is National Council of Social Service (NCSS). NCSS has a helpbot on Facebook named Belle, whose role is to assist the public with basic enquiries on mental health-related services in Singapore. Belle is also designed to curate and provide mental health information such as helplines, services, useful articles and videos, volunteering opportunities, as well as upcoming events – information is right at the public’s fingertips. AI virtual agents like Belle are extremely pertinent at times like this, especially when isolation can have adverse mental health consequences on individuals.
Chatbots can also help to bridge the gap between the demand for mental health services and the lack of available resources. NCSS is linking up with Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) to help individuals who have suicidal feelings and thoughts to tide through this difficult time. Users who reached out to Belle and expressed suicidal thoughts will be re-directed to SOS’ Facebook messenger page where they would be able to chat with volunteers on duty.
Conversational AI in the field of mental health is still a relatively new initiative and we recognise its limited capacity to recreate empathy and the human touch, at least not in the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, the social stigmas associated with mental health may make it challenging for individuals to seek help openly, hence the privacy of communication platforms like Facebook Messenger provide a safe haven for such dialogue and 24/7 access to credible mental health-related services and resources – all within a few chats.