Chatbots and Conversational Agents in Mental Health: A Review of the Psychiatric Landscape

Aditya Nrusimha Vaidyam, Hannah Wisniewski, John David Halamka, Matcheri S Kashavan, John Blake Torous
Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne de Psychiatrie 2019, 64 (7): 456-464

OBJECTIVE: The aim of this review was to explore the current evidence for conversational agents or chatbots in the field of psychiatry and their role in screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses.

METHODS: A systematic literature search in June 2018 was conducted in PubMed, EmBase, PsycINFO, Cochrane, Web of Science, and IEEE Xplore. Studies were included that involved a chatbot in a mental health setting focusing on populations with or at high risk of developing depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, and substance abuse disorders.

RESULTS: From the selected databases, 1466 records were retrieved and 8 studies met the inclusion criteria. Two additional studies were included from reference list screening for a total of 10 included studies. Overall, potential for conversational agents in psychiatric use was reported to be high across all studies. In particular, conversational agents showed potential for benefit in psychoeducation and self-adherence. In addition, satisfaction rating of chatbots was high across all studies, suggesting that they would be an effective and enjoyable tool in psychiatric treatment.

CONCLUSION: Preliminary evidence for psychiatric use of chatbots is favourable. However, given the heterogeneity of the reviewed studies, further research with standardized outcomes reporting is required to more thoroughly examine the effectiveness of conversational agents. Regardless, early evidence shows that with the proper approach and research, the mental health field could use conversational agents in psychiatric treatment.

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