Apps To Heal The Mind
Man's World|June 2019

More and more young people are turning to Artificial Intelligence-based apps for their mental well-being.

Aastika Marwaha

“I had the worst anxiety attack last year, and that’s when I started using a chatbot. Through a breathing exercise I learnt on the app, I was able to breathe normally. Previously, I always thought that these panic attacks were just me being overdramatic.” says 26-year-old Geetanjali Mishra, a Mumbai-based buyer for a clothing company who frequently uses an app called Wysa installed on her phone for advice to help calm herself down. Also called chatbots or automated conversational agents, Wysa and others like Youper and Replika are emotional health assistants that use a variety of Artificial Intelligence (AI) based psychological techniques fed into their algorithm to detect, monitor and provide relief for mild psychological conditions like anxiety panic attacks and even some forms of depression. A quick chat with the AI chatbot is proving to be the mental health first aid for many stressed out youngsters like Mishra, who otherwise would have ignored the problem in its early stages, and wait for it to get worse before seeking help from trained professionals.

Picture having a friend who always replies to your 4 am texts, listens to how your day went and cares about your mental well-being. Now, replace that human friend with an AI - that is the role these apps perform. “Everyone has emotional challenges, and one in four people on the planet faces disabling mental health issues," says Jose Hamilton, founder of the chatbot Youper, "As a psychiatrist by training, the most common thing I’ve heard from my patients was: It took me years until I came here for help. Youper was born from the idea that everyone can become the best version of themselves, like being a super you. Our mission is to give everyone on the planet his or her emotional health assistant to ensure that no one has to wait years to address their emotional challenges.”

Chatbots allow the user to pour their hearts out to the AI in them while being anonymous. Ramakant Vempati, co-founder of Wysa says, “Everyone goes through times of anxiety or stress. Several techniques exist that are known to help, but people either don’t know about these or find it hard to access help either because of cost or stigma, especially at odd hours when you might not find another human to talk to.”

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