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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Meet the Chatbots Providing Mental Health Care

Daniela Hernandez
Wall Street Journal
Originally published Aug. 9, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Wysa Ltd., a London- and Bangalore-based startup, is testing a free chatbot to teach adolescents emotional resilience, said co-founder Ramakant Vempati.  In the app, a chubby penguin named Wysa helps users evaluate the sources of their stress and provides tips on how to stay positive, like thinking of a loved one or spending time outside.  The company said its 400,000 users, most of whom are under 35, have had more than 20 million conversations with the bot.

Wysa is a wellness app, not a medical intervention, Vempati said, but it relies on cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness techniques and meditations that are “known to work in a self-help context.”  If a user expresses thoughts of self-harm, Wysa reminds them that it’s just a bot and provides contact information for crisis hotlines.  Alternatively, for $30 a month, users can access unlimited chat sessions with a human “coach.”  Other therapy apps, such as Talkspace, offer similar low-cost services with licensed professionals.

Chatbots have potential, said Beth Jaworski, a mobile apps specialist at the National Center for PTSD in Menlo Park, Calif.  But definitive research on whether they can help patients with more serious conditions, like major depression, still hasn’t been done, in part because the technology is so new, she said.  Clinicians also worry about privacy.  Mental health information is sensitive data; turning it over to companies could have unforeseen consequences.

The article is here.