A few weeks ago, we shared about the likelihood of AI engaging with mental health, if we shared about the likelihood of AI engaging with mental health, if it was even possible, and how it would interpret our faith within it. The short of it, we were impressed. Now there is news of how AI is harming the mental health world. NPR recently covered a recent report about a concern from the National Eating Disorders Association helpline that moved from live human advice to a chatbot.
The article discusses a chatbot designed to offer advice on eating disorders, which was found to be providing harmful dieting recommendations. Critics argue that the chatbot’s algorithm may reinforce unhealthy behaviors and promote dangerous weight loss practices. Mental health experts emphasize the importance of human involvement in providing support for individuals with eating disorders, as AI lacks the empathy and understanding necessary for sensitive issues.
Since this problematic situation, the organization has announced it is closing the online helpline. Yet, the incident highlights the need for careful development and regulation of AI applications in healthcare to ensure they prioritize patient safety and well-being.
What Are The Risks
There are several risks associated with AI giving mental health advice:
- Lack of empathy and understanding.
AI lacks the emotional intelligence and empathy that people and mental health professionals are trained to utilize. Mental health issues often require a nuanced and compassionate approach, which AI may struggle to articulate.
- Misinterpretation of context.
AI may struggle to accurately interpret the context and nuances of a person’s mental health condition. It may misinterpret or overlook critical details or context, leading to incorrect or inappropriate advice.
- Reinforcing harmful behaviors.
AI algorithms may inadvertently reinforce harmful behaviors or provide advice that promotes unhealthy coping mechanisms. Without a human’s ability to assess the individual’s specific needs and circumstances, there’s a risk of making the mental illness symptoms worse.
- Limited assessment capabilities.
AI may have limitations in accurately assessing complex mental health conditions. It may not be able to recognize subtle signs or variations in symptoms, potentially leading to misdiagnosis or inadequate advice.
- Privacy and security concerns.
Sharing personal and sensitive mental health information with an AI system raises concerns about data privacy and security. If not properly protected, this information could be misused or accessed by unauthorized parties.
While AI has the potential to support mental health care, it should be used cautiously and in conjunction with human professionals to ensure a comprehensive and responsible approach to mental health advice and support.