A recent study suggests that artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to be a valuable tool in mental health treatment. The study tested an AI voice-based virtual coach called Lumen, which delivered a form of psychotherapy and resulted in changes in patients’ brain activity and improved symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The findings, published in Translational Psychiatry, provide encouraging evidence that virtual therapy can help address the gaps in mental health care, particularly in terms of waitlists and disparities in access that often hinder patients, especially those from vulnerable communities, from receiving treatment.
Dr. Olusola A. Ajilore, a psychiatry professor at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), highlighted the increased need for mental health support, especially following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shortage of practitioners. He explained that AI technology like Lumen can serve as a bridge, not a replacement for traditional therapy, to help individuals seek treatment.
The clinical study recruited over 60 patients, who had mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety symptoms, to investigate brain activity in regions associated with the benefits of problem-solving therapy. Two-thirds of the participants engaged in active usage of the Lumen app on a provided iPad for eight sessions of problem-solving therapy, while the researchers assigned the remaining participants to the control group without any intervention.
The control group showed higher depression, anxiety, and psychological distress scores compared to the group utilizing the Lumen app, indicating a decrease in these symptoms for the Lumen group. Increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area responsible for cognitive control, was associated with the improved problem-solving abilities observed in the Lumen group. Furthermore, women and underrepresented populations showed promising outcomes as well.
Dr. Jun Ma, a professor of medicine at UIC, explained that the therapy delivered through Lumen aims to change individuals’ problem-solving mindset and prevent emotional overwhelm. This voice-based artificial intelligence technology aligns well with the established and patient-driven behavior therapy approach.
In summary, the study highlights the potential of AI as a complementary tool in mental health treatment, particularly for bridging the gaps in access to care. The use of Lumen, an AI voice assistant, resulted in improved symptoms and brain activity in patients, demonstrating the value of virtual therapy in filling the need for mental health support.