The Future of Technology in Supporting Mental Health

Of course, none of us can know the future, but history tells us that we tend to adapt to new technologies used to support our work. With PRA’s mission to create positive social change for people and communities through technical assistance, research, and training, I am curious how we may use these artificial intelligence tools to help us advance our purpose. I decided to get a response directly from the source, so I entered and received the following prompt and response from ChatGPT:

Based on the trajectory of technology, what are some ways that social change organizations can use artificial intelligence to create positive change for people and communities impacted by mental health-related issues over the next 5 years?

There are several ways that social change organizations can use artificial intelligence (AI) to create positive change for people and communities impacted by mental health-related issues over the next 5 years:

    1. Chatbots and virtual therapists: Social change organizations can use AI-powered chatbots and virtual therapists to provide individuals with access to mental health support and resources around the clock, regardless of their location.
    2. Early detection and diagnosis: AI-powered algorithms can analyze patterns in data such as speech, text, and physiological signals to detect early signs of mental health issues and help connect individuals with appropriate care.
    3. Personalized treatment: AI can be used to analyze large amounts of data to identify new treatment options and predict how individuals will respond to different medications, and help to personalize treatment based on an individual’s needs
    4. Mental health research: AI-powered research tools can help identify patterns in large datasets, such as genetic or imaging data, that can provide new insights into the underlying causes of mental health conditions and help to develop more effective treatments
    5. Mental Health Data analysis and monitoring: AI can help organizations to analyze a large amount of data from multiple sources to track and monitor the mental health situation of the community or population they are working with, which can be used to identify trends, patterns, and potential issues to act on.

It’s important to note that while AI has the potential to create positive change for people and communities impacted by mental health-related issues, it’s important for social change organizations to develop AI responsibly and with the needs of people in mind.

This response from ChatGPT suggests that AI can support not only the detection of issues, the direction of treatment, and the identification of new treatments but also the enhancement of individual, population, and community-level research about mental health.

Considering the Digital Divide

“Technology tends to arc toward privilege,” as stated by Dr. Jenny Davis in her book How Artifacts Afford, summarizes how new technologies tend to benefit those who are already privileged rather than reducing inequalities that exist. Access to information and resources accumulates at a far greater rate online than offline. Also, the development of new technologies is typically shaped by those in privileged positions, with similar others in mind. The digital divide, which refers to the gap between those who have access to digital technologies and those who do not, is multidimensional and rooted in socioeconomic differences. The digital divide manifests in disparities in access to broadband or digital devices, disparities in digital literacy levels, and differences in the benefits received by technology use. Before a person experiencing mental illness can use a virtual therapist, they would need access to the internet, the skillset to operate and navigate the interface, and find the technology to be culturally relevant.

We can help to close the divide in several ways, such as increasing access to devices and the internet through programs that provide low-cost or free internet access and devices. These programs would expand the delivery of digital-literacy training to help people learn to use devices, navigate the digital world, and search the internet. It is also important to support the development of culturally relevant information. Many people in developing countries speak languages that are not widely used on the internet, and many programming languages have built-in functions and support that are in English by default, creating obstacles for non-English speakers to start on equal footing for technological contribution. Developing content and services in local languages can help to make the internet more accessible to these individuals and allow them to benefit as well. Supporting federal, state, and local programs and partnerships that combine their resources and expertise to bridge the digital divide is essential as well. The Affordable Connectivity Program, Broadband Opportunities Program, Infrastructure Investment, and Jobs Act, and the Connect America Fund are all examples of national efforts to expand access for underserved communities to begin to close the technological gaps and bring us closer to equity in opportunity.

*ChatGPT’s haiku, in response to – “write a haiku, in the voice of Abraham Lincoln, about the state of U.S. politics today”:

Divided we stand
E Pluribus Unum lost
Unity, we seek.