AI voice coach shows promise in treating depression, anxiety: Study – ET HealthWorld


Washington: Results of a recent pilot study led by academics at the University of Illinois Chicago suggests that artificial intelligence it can be a beneficial aid in the treatment of mental illness.

The study, which was the first to test an AI voice-based virtual trainer for behavior therapyfound changes in patients’ brain activity along with an improvement depression and anxiety symptoms after using Lumen, an AI voice assistant that provided a form of psychotherapy.

The UIC team say the results, which are published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, offer encouraging evidence that virtual therapy may play a role in filling the gaps in mental health health care, where waiting lists and disparities in access are often obstacles that patients, particularly from vulnerable communities, must overcome to receive treatment.

“We’ve had an incredible explosion of need, especially in the wake of COVID, with skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression and there aren’t enough doctors,” said Dr. Olusola A. Ajilore, a UIC professor of psychiatry and co-author of the paper. “This type of technology can serve as a bridge. It’s not meant to be a replacement for traditional therapy, but it can be an important stopgap measure before someone can seek treatment.”

Lumen, which works as a skill in the Amazon Alexa app, was developed by Ajilore and the study’s senior author, Dr. Jun Ma, the Beth and George Vitoux Professor of Medicine at UIC, along with collaborators at the University of Washington in St. Louis and Pennsylvania State University. , supported by a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental health.

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UIC researchers recruited more than 60 patients for the clinical study exploring the effect of the app on mild to moderate symptoms of depression and anxiety, and activity in areas of the brain previously shown to be associated with the benefits of problem solving therapy.

Two-thirds of the patients used Lumen on a study-provided iPad for eight sessions of problem-solving therapy, with the remainder serving as “wait-list” controls receiving no intervention.

After the intervention, study participants using the Lumen app had lower scores for depression, anxiety, and psychological distress compared to the control group. The Lumen group also showed improvements in problem-solving skills that were correlated with increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area of ​​the brain associated with cognitive control. Promising results were also found for women and underrepresented populations.

“It’s about changing the way people think about problems and how to approach them, and not getting emotionally overwhelmed,” Ma said. “It’s a well-established pragmatic, patient-directed behavioral therapy, which makes it a a good option to manage it using voice-based technology.

The investigator is currently conducting a larger trial comparing the use of Lumen with a control group on a waiting list and with patients receiving human-trained problem-solving therapy. They stress that the virtual coach does not need to perform better than a human therapist to fill a desperate need in the mental health system.

“The way we need to think about digital mental health service is not for these apps to replace humans, but to recognize the gap we have between supply and demand, and then find novel, effective, and safe ways to deliver treatments to people who otherwise don’t have access, to fill that void,” Ma said.

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  • Updated On May 19, 2023 at 11:09 AM IST
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  • Posted on May 19, 2023 at 11:03am IST
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  • 3 min read
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