News     29/02/2024

Adferiad Asks: Can AI Ethically Have a Role in Mental Health Care?

Adferiad Asks: Can AI Ethically Have a Role in Mental Health Care?

Written by Chloe Harrison, Research and Evaluation Officer, Adferiad Recovery.

In the past decade, AI technologies have become a part of our daily lives and have been nothing short of transformative. From search engines to predictive text and smart speakers, AI has seamlessly integrated itself into the fabric of our existence. In 2022, the emergence of new technology like ChatGPT launched AI from tech enthusiast circles into the mainstream, solidifying its status as an indispensable part of our lives. Fast forward to 2024, AI’s integration has become so ingrained that asking Alexa to play music, or for Google Assistant to check football scores are now considered routine. The rise of AI technologies certainly shows no signs of slowing anytime soon, and the question we must now ask ourselves is not whether AI can help but rather how we can use it responsibly, particularly in sectors as crucial as mental health care. 

In the healthcare landscape, AI has made significant inroads, revolutionising tasks such as analysing medical images and monitoring patients in ‘virtual wards.’ While these applications have yielded benefits like reduced waiting times and enhanced patient care, mental healthcare presents unique challenges. Recent research indicates that clinicians exhibit hesitancy towards adopting AI tools due to concerns about quality, regulation, legal liability, and ethical considerations. 

The integration of AI in mental healthcare demands a nuanced approach, considering the sensitivity of shared information and the vulnerability of service users. As such we (Adferiad), in collaboration with Swansea, Southampton, and Nottingham Trent Universities, funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, have asked both service users and staff their concerns regarding the potential use of AI systems in mental health care services. 

Engaging with over 100 Adferiad service users and staff through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, key concerns were identified. People were concerned about everything from internet access and concerns around data and confidentiality, to the risk of losing that personal touch that’s so crucial in mental health care. Yet, there was also optimism about the benefits AI could bring, like cutting down wait times and offering greater choice to those who might feel more comfortable talking to a machine than a person. 

The consensus? AI has a place in mental health care, but to support services, not to replace them. AI could help us with streamlining processes or providing signposting advice and guidance, leaving the human touch where it matters most. As AI races ahead, we need to keep up, not just with the technology but with the conversation about how to use it wisely. Making sure AI tools in mental health care are safe, suitable, and shaped by those who’ll use them is crucial. The journey ahead is about more than just innovation; it’s about making sure these advances serve us all, safely and ethically.