Wellness·4 min read

Could AI Be The Future of Mental Health Care?

Woman staring at cell phone on couch
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Getty Images
January 18, 2023

Artificial intelligence has advanced since Clippy “helped” us write.Take ChatGPT, a chatbot released in November 2022 that can pass the US Medical Licensing Exam and write academic essays so authentic-sounding that educators worry about cheating. But is AI intelligent enough to offer mental health support? 

Why do you ask?

In a controversial recent experiment by the emotional support chat app Koko, participants rated messages co-authored by GPT-3, the software behind ChatGPT, higher than human responses. But only when the participants didn’t know AI was involved, Koko’s co-founder Rob Morris tweeted.

Is that a good or bad thing?

TBD. Along with questions around consent, family physician Dr. LaTasha Seliby Perkins has concerns about using AI for mental health care. For one, she doesn’t think AI can connect on a personal level, particularly with patients of color who grew up feeling like it’s taboo to talk about mental health. The “art of medicine,” she said, “is based on my human experience as another Black woman, who's a descendant of slaves, who grew up in the United States, who has a Southern family.” Given her experience, she said she’s been able to intuit when people needed help even when they weren’t asking for it. “Medicine isn’t a protocol-only driven textbook,” she said. 

Joanna Smolenski, senior ethics fellow at UCLA Health’s Ethics Center, worries that AI (which has amplified the worst parts of humanity before) could exacerbate problems and biases that already exist in health care. But with buy-in from providers and consent from patients, she said the technology has the potential to…

  • Increase access to therapy, particularly for people with antisocial tendencies (who might prefer not to talk to a person).

  • Assist with triage to determine who needs immediate care.

  • Help make precise diagnoses when human contact isn’t necessary.


In health, even “fake” things can have a real impact: The placebo effect is powerful, and VR has been embraced as a way to support mental health treatment. But when it comes to talk therapy, humanity still seems hard to replace.

And Also… This

Where women’s health care is getting an upgrade…

New York City. Yesterday, city officials pledged to focus on women’s health with a wide-ranging plan that includes offering free abortion medication, increasing support for pregnant people with underlying conditions, and providing services to mothers struggling with addiction. Mayor Eric Adams said he plans to make the city a “model for the future of women’s health care.” Other cities, take note. 

What’s giving mixed signals… 

Cervical cancer data. The good: There's been a 65% drop in cervical cancer rates among women in their early 20s (thank you, HPV vaccine). The bad: Unlike many other cancer types, survival rates haven't gotten better in recent decades. So, here’s a reminder for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: ask your doctor about getting a pap smear.  

Who may be entitled to compensation…

Thinx customers. The period-absorbing underwear brand that markets itself as “non-toxic” and “sustainable” has agreed to a settlement of up to $5 million. That’s after a class-action lawsuit alleged its products contained PFAS (aka forever chemicals), associated with infertility,cancer, and pollution. The company denies the accusations. 

What’s a natural remedy that actually works… 

Nature. Literally.

Photo of Shana Minei Spence

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Shana Minei Spence is a registered dietitian and nutritionist who serves up daily takedowns of diet culture to her 200K+ followers on Instagram. At a time when social media is brimming with so-called diet hacks (“New Year, New You” vibes), Spence provides frank insights on trends like detoxes and ”clean” eating, and pushes back against body-shaming (and potato-shaming). 

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