NEW DELHI : The role of artificial intelligence in catering to mental health needs has significantly increased, allowing for technology to somewhat address the paucity of trained professionals, especially in India.

“India has 175 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, whereas there really should be three times the number of psychiatrists. In the US, we have the same problem as well,” said Carin-Isabel Knoop, executive director of Harvard Business School, delivering her keynote address at the 2023 Mint AI Summit.

This dearth of professionals, particularly in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, drove the need for AI platforms and services to cater to mental health requirements, she said. “The pandemic actually accelerated this gap further—through this period, the demand for mental health consultations rose by 25%.”

AI ‘companions’ could likely be of aid to some extent for individuals who feel lonely and may need services that can help address such emotions, she said by way of example of how AI could address certain mental health requirements. 

“In 10% of ‘companion AI’ conversations, there was a significant mental health conversation being had with a chatbot. Many of them were not even specially trained, but were largely general. In a way, this signals automation of the need for people to talk to someone,” Knoop said. 

“If people use such stock spaces for mindfulness, that is a placebo effect, and that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with a placebo effect, and it is a clear effect of automation.”

Knoop added that certain services also collect information based on an individual’s mental health status, such as on Meta’s platforms, and then serve ads and content based on that person’s feelings. 

“Because of a proliferation of digital services, you may also assume mental health conditions of various individuals that you interact with,” she said. “All of this accelerates the need for AI services in helping offer support and address mental health requirements.”

Knoop also cautioned about other adverse effects from the proliferation of AI in multiple sectors. For instance, she said, “the average vocabulary of people is dropping with the use of AI and texting.”

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Published: 09 Dec 2023, 04:28 PM IST