Chatbots Can Help Those Struggling With Depression

Chatbots Can Help Those Struggling With Depression

By David Konow 06/12/17

A chatbot called the Woebot is the latest tech to join the mental health treatment arena. 

Image: 
Sad woman looking at a laptop screen.

Woebot Labs has created chatbots that people can turn to in times of emotional turmoil.

The "Woebot" engages the user with cognitive behavioral therapy, asking them how they’re feeling, and sending videos they can watch that can help, Entrepreneur reports. You can use the Messenger app on Facebook to engage in the Woebot therapy—but like seeing a psychiatrist, it remains confidential and doesn’t leave a public impression anyone else can view.

The Woebot website offers users a free session. The chatbot offers a humble and engaging introduction: “I’m ready to listen, 24/7. No couches, no meds, no childhood stuff. Just strategies to improve your mood. And the occasional dorky joke.”

There are also several other chatbots that offer a variety of communication options: Wysa provides help over the phone while Joy gives support through Facebook Messenger. Joy will check in with you every day, ask about your mental well-being, and adjust its advice based on the person’s response.

Stanford University did a study of how well these chatbots work, and the results are very promising. A group of students used Woebot every day, and found that their anxiety and depression levels went down considerably.

Woebot was created by Alison Darcy, a psychologist at Stanford. As she told Wired, “Woebot is a robot you can tell anything to. It’s not an AI that’s going to tell you stuff you don’t know about yourself by detecting some magic you’re not even aware of.” The more you tell Woebot about yourself, the more it can help you. Darcy is also hopeful that Woebot will be a good starter “gateway therapy” that will encourage people to seek out a human therapist.

In the testimonials section of the Woebot website, a 19-year-old user raved about the Woebot, “I loved this. I saw an improvement in my mood just from the two weeks.” Another 24-year-old Woebot user wrote, “I really was impressed and surprised at the difference the bot made in my everyday life in terms of noticing the types of thinking I was having and changing it.” 

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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