Let’s Fight Mental Illness Together
Artificial Intelligence, the latest revolution in technology has taken the world by storm and it is this very technology which is used by two of the mental health startups, Wysa and Trust Circle
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As the number of Indians affected by stress, anxiety and depression is increasing at an alarming rate every year, mental health problem has unarguably become one of the most pressing issues in India. The lack of awareness about mental health combined with people’s reluctance in discussing these problems has resulted in making the situation worse in our country. However, amid all these issues, technology comes as a glimmer of hope for many, helping people in their battle against mental illness.
Artificial Intelligence, the latest revolution in technology has taken the world by storm and it is this very technology which is used by two of the mental health startups, Wysa and Trust Circle. While Wysa was the first ‘one of its kind’ startup, Trust Circle was the first mental health startup in Africa which is now available in 22 countries.
Talking about the benefits of AI in tackling mental health problems, Co-Founder of Wysa Jo Aggarwal said, “Artificial intelligence provides a more natural user experience. It plays a major role in making a person feel that they are talking to another person. As the information is anonymous and confidential, people do not feel like somebody would judge them and they open up more easily.”
Sachin Chaudhry, founder of Trust Circle who shared similar views said, “Trust Circle is available on any device and it allows individuals to track emotions and mental health vitals.” Furthermore, he also added that Trust Circle which is creating ripples of hope around the world works on a 3P Model- Prevention, Participation and Protection.
With the wide reach of these startups it is clear that they are increasingly becoming popular among the people. However, these AI based apps have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Hits and misses
There is no questioning the fact that AI has brought about a revolution in the mental health sector around the world. This very technology has proved to be a boon for everyone, specifically for those suffering from mental health problems. According to Aggarwal, “AI plays a role in making a person feel that they are talking to another person.
Most people do not want to express their feelings to another person, for example a therapist as they are afraid that the other person might judge them. However, this technology is anonymous and confidential and at the same time, it assimilates a real conversation and provides guidance.”
While stating that we must think of this easily accessible free service not as a therapy but as a gym with a trainer for the mind, she added that Wysa can help a large number of people simultaneously when compared to the number of people a therapist can serve.
Similarly, Chaudhry also believes that AI can be helpful in serving those who are going through severe mental health disorders. Elaborating on how this works, he said, “AI engine does data mining of individuals and community. When they start using the products we understand based on their usage as to who is at risk. Once the organisation knows where the risk areas are, then it can channelize resources around risk areas and train the workforce (including volunteers). As the trained people help in solving this problem, experts have the bandwidth to help those severely ill.”
As this technology is doing wonders for many people, its inability to read between the lines remains one of its major drawbacks according to Aggarwal. She believes that humans are sometimes unable to express their emotions properly and only a therapist can read in between the lines and provide proper guidance in these circumstances.
While mentioning about the mental health scenario in India, Aggarwal made a very important point that while there is a sharp decline in the number of people affected with ‘physical diseases’ like Polio, mental health issues are increasing year by year. This alarming increase in mental health issues according to Chaudhry is due to people’s failure in understanding their emotions and also due to the ignorance of the fact that brain needs to be taken care of.
In order to alleviate the problem by helping more people, both these startups plan to expand their operations by providing greater benefits to the users. While Wysa plans to launch its services in other languages including Hindi, Trust Circle envisions to empower 5 million Indian people in the next five years by partnering with those organisations operating in India and at a global level capable of taking the mission forward. Trust Circle is also looking for support from local government, organisations and influencers.
However, as AI is making a lot of progress in the field of mental health sector, many people are scared of losing their jobs to technology. However, Aggarwal believes that both AI and psychiatrists need to work simultaneously to ensure good mental health.
What can we do?
While technology and psychiatrists are playing a major role in helping people with mental health issues, it is however, not possible to win the battle against the problem without uprooting the stigma attached with mental health from the society. As Chaudhry rightly said, “We got independence 72 years ago but we still need to fight a war to gain independence from the invisible enemy around us- stigma.”
The need of the hour as Chaudhry says, is for us to understand that we are solely responsible for our own health. According to him the key to good health lies in eating right, working right and consuming information good for the mind. We have to understand that it is ok to have bad days and it is ok to be sad because then we realise the worth of happiness. We also have to understand that people going through mental health problems are just like us. Chaudhry also mentioned that the day we understand that brain is a physical organ the stigma ends.