Ulster University secures £1m for mental health AI chat bot

  • Ulster University has announced a £1m research project exploring the use of AI chatbots in mental health treatment.

    Over 16 million people in the UK suffer from some form of mental illness, with around 20% of the UK population experiencing significant symptoms of depression or anxiety according to the most recent statistics. The scale of this problem makes it a difficult one to treat, especially when combined with ongoing reductions in NHS budgets and shortages of qualified mental health staff.

    Now researchers at Ulster University are investigating the potential of artificial intelligence to lend a hand to the problem. A team at the university has secured £1m in funding to explore the application of AI-based chatbots to support those living with mental health disorders.

    Chatbots offer 24/7 support that would be prohibitively expensive to provide with human chat assistants, and the past few years have seen significant improvements to chatbots using AI-based training systems. The proposed bot system would give people a way to discuss issues such as anxiety and depression, provide feedback based on "mood logs" and provide personalised advice on coping strategies that might work for the individual.

    The technology has already proven useful for looking up basic information, but chatbots are still largely unproven when it comes to discussing sensitive issues such as mental health. "Many research questions are still to be answered including the ethical use of chatbots and the extent to which they should simulate empathy and emotional support," explained Dr Raymond Bond, Senior Lecturer in Data Analytics at Ulster University, adding that "Chatbots are likely to be used to augment current services - not replace them."

    Source: Written based on press release

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