AI in Psychology: Smart Ways to Improve Your Mental Health

How is AI changing psychology? Delve into the collaboration between artificial intelligence and psychologists. Uncover how this teamwork enhances therapy and boosts well-being

April 14, 2024

Artificial intelligence in psychology
Author
Shashank Kothari
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Psychology is all about understanding how our brains work and why we do the things we do. On the other hand, artificial intelligence is shaking things up in the world, and psychology is not left out. That is, AI, through technologies like machine learning and natural language processing, is helping psychologists do their job better. In this article, I will show you how artificial intelligence and psychology work together to reform mental health evaluation and therapy, and how they assist us in comprehending human cognition.

AI and Mental Health Assessment

AI is now being used to evaluate our psychological well-being in a variety of ways. Some of these approaches are as follows:

Chatbots for Initial Screening

One way you can use the technology is to monitor your mental health through chatbots. These tools offer a convenient way to talk about your mental health worries and provide recommendations based on what top therapists would say.

A chat with Earkick, telling it about how I have been feeling low in mood. It is asking some questions to try to see how it can be of help.
A chat with Earkick to see how it could help with depression and it gave me some valuable advice. 

One example is Earkick, in which you can talk or type about what is bothering you. As a result, it will then suggest solutions (if you feel stressed, for example, it may offer you to do a breathing exercise). Also, it could give you ways to stop having those negative thoughts or offer you stress-management tips.

Woebot is another chatbot that engages users in regular conversations. The app will then gauge your mood and provide supportive responses based on what you input.

However, these apps do not diagnose or treat mental health issues. Also, none of the companies have undergone the FDA clearance procedure, which is a review of safety and performance data for the device, to prove that they successfully treat conditions such as depression. Vaile Wright, a psychologist and tech director of the American Psychological Association, says: "There’s no regulatory body ove…The chatbots are not the same as traditional mental health treatment."

But they could help some people with less severe mental and emotional problems''. So, if we are to go with Wright, these chatbots are helpful with mild mental issues, but they need regulatory bodies to oversee them.

Social Media Posts Analyzer

Another interesting thing is how AI can check out social media posts to see if someone might have mental health issues. For instance, a study by the Department of Computer Science explored machine learning and transformer techniques used to find signs of depression on social media. 

In the study, they looked at how often certain words associated with depression appeared in social media posts. For instance, people with mental health problems might use words like "hate" a lot because they're feeling bad, which makes them express their feelings publicly.

A word cloud showing the frequency of depressive words (like sorry, today, sad, bad, hate, etc.), according to the study by the Department of Computer Science, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville. Here we can see the words “sorry”, “today”, “hate”, and “sad” as the most frequently used.
A word cloud showing the frequency of depressive words. For example, people with mental conditions frequently use the word "hate" because of the intense negative emotions they experience. Source: MDPI

The researchers used Sentiment140, which can find out the sentiment on any Twitter post. By examining language patterns in social media, which include those gathered in the Sentiment140 information set, the system indicates early warning signs and indicators of depression. Specifically, they used a unique algorithm to examine the language structure of each tweet. The research shows the potential of AI in mental health assessment through social media analysis. For example, according to Healthy Place, one of the biggest consumer mental health websites, people who use “sorry” too much are primarily ones with low esteem issues. The research also offers valuable insights for clinical applications.

Speech Patterns Assessment 

AI technology evaluates changes in speech patterns to identify possible mental health conditions. A notable example is a model developed by MIT researchers. According to Tuka Alhanai, an EECS graduate student, “the model sees sequences of words or speaking style and determines that these patterns are more likely to be seen in people who are depressed or not depressed. Then, if it sees the same sequences in new subjects, it can predict if they’re depressed too.” The model predicts depression based on speech analysis with a 77% accuracy rate. It is still in the developmental stage though and has not been used yet in real time. But it is expected to be in use in the next four years.

Smartphone Usage Monitor

Mindstrong weekly mood tracker shows a user's mood throughout the week. Sunday showed orange, which means a normal mood. Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday showed grey, meaning it wasn't used. Wednesday showed green, which means a great mood.
Mindstrong mood tracker showing the user’s mood over the week. Orange shows a normal mood. Grey means it wasn't in use, green indicates the best mood, while red represents the mood wasn't good. Source: Softonic

There are some AI-powered apps that can track smartphone usage behaviors to recognize patterns associated with mental health conditions. For example, Mindstrong and MoodTools are apps that monitor user activities to detect shifts in behavior that may indicate underlying mental health concerns. 

Mindstrong's primary objective is to manage the signs of depression. How does it do that? The app tracks the way how you type (and not what you type), analyzing the speed, errors, and other patterns in your writing. After that, it sends that info to one of Mindstrong’s servers, and machine learning algorithms make conclusions on the state of your mental health. Finally, the app shares the results with you.

MoodTools, on the other hand, helps users to cope with signs of depression using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques. Inside the app, there's a Thought Diary to help you change negative thoughts, the articles about depression, tips to support yourself, the depression questionnaire, and links to more help. 

Thought Diary on Mood Tools. The feature let’s you write down your emotions, negative thoughts, and think about how you can cope with them, writing alternative thoughts instead.
This is how Thought Diary looks on MoodTools. It helps analyze your thoughts, understand your emotions, and think how to cope with negative ones.

Facial Expression Analysis

Artificial intelligence can even analyze facial expressions to understand your emotions and potential mental health issues. In a study of 177 people diagnosed with severe depressive disorder, the researchers found that an app they have just developed, MoodCapture, correctly recognized the earliest signs of depression – 75% of the time. This app is able to find these symptoms before the person even realizes something's wrong.

A MoodCapture app tracks facial expressions using front camera. AI analyses gaze, eye movement, positioning of the head, and muscle rigidity. The app predicts if user has depressions and refers them to treatment.
How MoodCapture works. Source: The Sun

Biometric Data Analysis

Heart rate and sleep patterns may be used to spot signs of mental health problems with the help of AI. Companies like BioBeats and Cardiogram use AI to analyze this information and offer possible solutions. 

The Biobeat wristwatch showing the wearer’s pulse and BP and a real-time measurement collected by the device.
The Biobeat wristwatch and a real-time measurement collected by the device. The watch displays your pulse and BP, and the tap analyzes the data. The watch can be connected to any smartphone or tablet. Source: ResearchGate

Such gadgets check heart rate and skin temperature to assess your mental well-being. First, you must put on a handwatch that captures biometric data. The app's AI algorithms then examine this information to find the signals of stress, anxiety, or other disorders. Finally, after recognizing these problems, the app provides recommendations to help you improve your mental health.

How You Can Take Care of Your Mental Health

To support your mental health,don’t forget about regular breaks during your workday. Deep breathing will help you relax. Find time for friends and family, and set boundaries between work and personal life to avoid burnout. Never hesitate to seek professional support if needed – this is really important. 

AI in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Artificial intelligence technologies are integrated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to deliver CBT-based interventions and treatments for mental health issues. CBT is a type of short-term therapy that focuses on the connections between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It aims to change negative thought patterns, beliefs, and attitudes to improve behavior and help people face difficulties and achieve their goals. 

The MindShift app offers the tips on how I can cope with anxiety; it offers to take a breath, shift my thinking, ground myself, take a small step, and get help. By clicking on each tip, I can learn more about each recommendation. 
I used the MindShift app for daily mental health check-in. Here, it displays the tips on how I can cope with anxiety. By clicking on each tip, the user can learn more information about it. 

There are some AI-powered interactive tools that help enhance CBT results. These platforms often incorporate gamification elements, such as virtual rewards or progress tracking, to motivate and engage you throughout therapy. For instance, the MindShift smartphone app uses AI to guide you through CBT techniques like cognitive restructuring and mindfulness exercises. These techniques help deconstruct thoughts that are not helpful to you and rebuild them in a more balanced and accurate way and are tailored to your symptoms and goals.

One example of cognitive restructuring is feeling intense fear and stress while thinking about an upcoming exam. These fears and worries cause sleepless nights. So, through this technique, you identify that recurring thought: "I will fail the exam." Since you have recognized this as a cognitive distortion, you could challenge it by reminding yourself that you had prepared well and that even if you do not get an A, it doesn't mean you have failed. Using the ABCDE model, which includes 5 steps: activating event or situation, beliefs, consequences, disputation of the beliefs, and effective new approach to dealing with the problem, – you reframe your irrational belief, which leads to a healthier and more balanced thought process.

 ABCDE model used in CBT to treat mental health issues. It includes activating event, beliefs, consequences, dispute, and exchange/effects.
ABCDE model used in CBT to treat mental health issues. Source: Slide Salad

According to a study by the Journal of Mood & Anxiety Disorders, 380 participants aged 18 to 80 took part in an online open-label experiment. The experiment was aimed to assess anxiety and associated distress changes while using MindShift. Participants estimated the degree of severity of four key issues (anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, daily functional impairment, and low quality of life) at baseline and after two, four, eight, twelve, and sixteen weeks of using the MindShift app.

As a result, the participants mentioned they felt less anxiety; depressive symptoms eased; they found it easier to get through the day and enjoy life more. Improvements were independent of how often they used the MindShift app. Such results show how AI has been effective in CBT.

Another example is the use of VR in CBT for conditions like phobias or PTSD. AI creates virtual world that helps you feel your fears staying safe. For example, if you have aerophobia (fear of flying) and acrophobia (fear of heights), AI can help you to overcome these problems through virtual flights. This method can be really helpful in exposure therapy, which is a psychological treatment developed to help people face their fears.

A study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that virtual reality-assisted cognitive behavioral therapy (VRCBT) has impact on lowering anxiety and sadness in people with anxiety disorders. VRCBT, as compared to regular CBT, can provide the same results (and help even faster). However, we still need more research to assess the advantages of the methos for people with a broader range of such conditions.

Ways to Support Your Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Meditation and breathing exercises seem primitive techniques, but they really help if you do them regularly. Set realistic goals for the day and praise yourself for the progress. Use apps like MindShift to practice CBT techniques and keep track of how you're doing. And don't forget about self-care: get enough sleep, eat well, and stay active to boost your therapy.

Ethical Concerns 

Many ethical questions pop up when it comes to blending AI with psychology. Below are some of them:

Data Privacy and Security

Firstly, we have to address the issue of data privacy and security. Most times, the AI systems used in psychology process highly sensitive personal information. This information includes mental health records and therapy session transcripts. Strong measures should be implemented to protect this data from unauthorized access, misuse, or breaches.

Algorithmic Bias

Secondly, we have to address the potential for algorithmic bias. AI models can unintentionally possess societal biases in the training data. As a result, it can lead to unfair or one-sided outcomes. For instance, in October 2019, researchers found out that an AI algorithm that was used in more than 200 million people in US hospitals to determine which patients will require further medical treatment preferred white patients over black patients. So, this shows that AI systems must be tested and audited to find out and mitigate such biases. If that is done, it will ensure equal treatment for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or background.

Transparency

Furthermore, AI decision-making processes must be transparent and explainable. Psychologists and patients should clearly understand how AI systems arrive at their conclusions or recommendations. This is mainly in high-stakes scenarios like mental health diagnoses or treatment plans.

Human Oversight and Accountability

We, people, should still take responsibility. Of course, AI is helpful, but it should never replace the knowledge and experience of professional psychologists. The both should work together, with AI supporting humans instead of replacing them.

AI is changing psychology and mental health care for good. In the future, improved AI may aid in VR exposure treatment and tracking everyday routines for customized treatment. It may also assess emotions and ideas to help psychologists conduct research and treatment. However, we must guarantee that this is done ethically in order to improve everyone's mental health.

Author
Shashank Kothari
F4P Contributor

My goal is to empower readers with insightful blogs that explore future trends, provide practical guidance, and spark curiosity. Together, let's navigate the path to personal and professional growth in an ever-changing world.

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