Caitlin Clement|4/20/2023|3 min read

Can AI Help Treat Mental Health Disorders?

Smart technology may be the key towards better mental health care

middle aged asian women with depression looking out window with sad expression

There’s been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (AI) in the healthcare world from its ability to streamline the RCM process to utilizing it in diagnostic imaging. However, can AI be used to effectively treat what’s going on inside our heads?

According to an article by The New York Times, Joseph Weizenbaum, a computer scientist at M.I.T, built a computer system called Eliza in the 1960s. Initially, Weizenbaum built the program as a joke to show that computers didn’t have the capability to simulate meaningful human connection. Much to his shock, the program was a great success. 

Fast forward to today and we are faced with a mental health provider shortage due to an increase in industry demand for care and the normalizing of stigmas surrounding mental health. While the increasing trend of patients seeking out mental health help is a step in the right direction, mental and behavioral specialists don’t have the resources to keep up. 

What is the leading mental health issue?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, depression and anxiety have been at an all time high. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 4% of the world’s population has depression. When you do the math, that's 320 million people dealing with depression and/or anxiety. The United States population alone was at 331.9 million in 2021. 

How can AI help mental health professionals meet demand?

AI can be used as a tool to help mental health providers spot and treat mental health illnesses. How does this work exactly? The machine learning technology associated with most AI is extremely good at, well, learning from the behaviors and cues of an individual and then predicting certain outcomes.

When applying this to the mental health sector, the technology can help providers better track and recognize behaviors that are risks of mental illness, like depression, earlier. This machine learning can also be utilized to build patient treatment plans and adherence through interactive and data collecting tools like a mobile app. 

The more the patient interacts with the AI technology in the app, the more it learns about what tools and resources work for that patient. It can curate an entirely personalized treatment plan through data capture and feedback by offering relevant resources and tools.

AI can automate healthcare processes

Another way AI can help mental health professionals meet demand and avoid burnout is its ability to automate processes like coding procedures, EHR documentation and RCM. By decreasing the amount of administrative work on their plate, mental and behavioral health providers can get back to their patients faster. 

Will AI replace mental health care workers?

No. AI technology is not a replacement for those working with and treating patients with mental illness. It’s to be used as a supportive clinical tool that allows professionals to streamline their workflows, see more patients and provide their patients with accurate diagnosis and treatments faster.  

Although, it’s a valid concern that most people have addressed across various industries (ChatGPT we’re looking at you).

It is still up to trained mental health care workers to analyze any treatment recommendations and use their clinical judgment to decide whether or not it’s the best course for their patient. AI is meant to streamline processes and automate data analysis to save time for the provider, not replace them. 

While smart technology has shown itself to be a tremendously helpful tool, it’s still reliant on the data and algorithm it’s built on. This means, humans are still an important part of analyzing and delivering the recommendations and data generated by AI.

AI may help with early detection of mental health deterioration

In a medical article written in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, research was conducted on health care workers (HCWs) to determine whether AI could be utilized to detect early mental health deterioration among high-risk individuals.

What the research concluded was that for most classification or prediction tasks emerging from the area of mental health, labels are most likely still not quantified well enough to successfully train an algorithm. However, this doesn’t mean AI can’t be helpful in the collection and analysis of patient data. In fact, it could be the key to helping mental health professionals look at these markers more objectively (as we noted above). 

Powering virtual mental and behavioral health

There is still a lot unknown about healthcare AI and what it might bring to the future of the mental health industry. But there is no doubt that artificial intelligence will be an integral part of the future of patient care. 

Speaking of innovative healthcare, we’d like to take a moment to introduce OpenLoop! We provide intuitive telehealth technology customized for your business and your patients. Our HIPAA compliant EHR platform is built to streamline your workflow and remove some of that administrative burden. 

Interested in what we can do for your organization? Get in touch here!

Our full suite of white-labeled Telehealth Support Services include: