Episode 72: Are Robots the Future of Mental Healthcare?
Published 12 January 2021
In this episode, Christian Ward is joined by Alison Darcy, founder and CEO of Woebot, and Estella Shardlow, Stylus's senior editor of Consumer Lifestyle, to discuss how our mental health needs are increasingly being served by artificially intelligent bots.
Guests on this Episode
Alison Darcy is the founder and CEO of Woebot, a mental health and self-care chatbot adviser. Woebot uses a combination of natural language processing and psychological expertise to recognise a user's mood, and send videos and information to help. Woebot has a 98.9% accuracy rate in detecting crisis language, and 75% of first-time users reported feeling better after using the tool (Woebot, 2020).
Estella Shardlow is Stylus's senior editor of Consumer Lifestyle.
Episode Discussion Points
- How Woebot works [1:00]
- How Woebot breaks through the stigma of mental health [5:41]
- On tackling toxic tech [7:30]
- On the evolution of consumer attitudes to chatbots [11:05]
- The impact of Covid on Woebot usage [13:20]
- Tackling bias in AI [16:19]
- Future ambitions of Woebot [19:32]
On solving the problem of access to mental health
"I spent over 20 years trying to solve this huge problem that we have with access. I was always haunted by the same question which was: how are we going to get the two thirds of the people that will actually never get in front of a clinician towards better overall mental health? How can there not be something in between a self-help book and seeing a therapist?" [1:30]
On changing consumer attitudes to mental health chatbots
"There was a global study that I came across recently that found over two thirds of workers would rather talk to a robot about their mental health concerns than to their managers. And 80% were open to the idea of an AI counsellor, which is a pretty compelling figure." [11:54]
On tech having a positive impact on wellbeing
"We always hear so much about how some digital interactions, whether it be doomscrolling or addictive algorithms, could have been detrimental to our mental health – but something like Woebot really shows how tech can help rather than hinder our wellbeing." [7:14]
On key anxiety triggers during lockdown
"There were about five or six triggers that were felt almost by everybody across the world. One that sticks out to me was: the sight of people in line outside a supermarket. That sort of startling reality, the things that you take for granted – everything was upside down, adding to that overall impending sense of doom." [15:43]