A chatbot therapist to treat depression has launched as recent figures show that NHS patients seeking help with their mental health are waiting more than eight weeks to see a doctor after their first appointment. The chatbot therapist was developed by medical device company Flow, which in June launched a brain stimulation headset treatment for depression, the first and only medically approved at-home treatment of its kind in the UK and EU.
The chatbot therapist, called Flow, engages users with daily chat conversations and offers self-help techniques, mood tracking, curated videos, meditation and mental exercises. It helps users to learn why sleep, exercise, nutrition and meditation are the main pillars in recovering from depression – and gathers mood data to offer a personalised response modelled on behavioural therapy.
“I feel like I have a buddy who’s just chatting with me, no judgement, and forcing me to pace myself.”
Watch Flow in action
Available to download free on iOS, the chatbot therapist is based on the latest psychology and neuroscience research, and was developed by clinical psychologists and machine learning experts.
Nearly one in four adults in the UK are affected by a mental illness, with common causes being relationship breakdowns, loneliness and bereavement. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. The economic costs of mental illness in England is estimated at £105.2 billion annually. And one in three work sickness notes handed out by GPs are for mental health reasons, including depression.
“Accessibility and early intervention in depression is crucial,” says Daniel Mansson, Clinical Psychologist, CEO and Co-Founder of Flow. “The ‘always-on’ source of therapy provided by Flow ensures people get the help they need as quickly as possible. Flow can provide anonymity without the fear of being judged by others. This is great as some people feel anxious when it comes to talking about their depression to another human.”
To maximise the chance of recovery, Flow can be used in conjunction with the Flow brain stimulation headset. Randomised controlled trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the British Journal of Psychiatry show that brain stimulation, of the type used in the Flow headset, had a similar impact to antidepressants but with fewer and less-severe side effects.
Flow joins a growing number of mental health chatbots, including Woebot and Wysa, which are playing an increasing role in the mental health landscape. Whilst Woebot and Wysa use a cognitive behavioural approach to change the way people think, Flow has one goal: to reduce clinical depression based on well-grounded science.
Flow is starting talks with the NHS to have its brain stimulation headset available on prescription. The company recently announced an investment of £1.2 million by Khosla Ventures to roll out its offering across Europe, introduce the Flow headset to healthcare clinics in the UK, and fund clinical studies.
Of course, there is no real replacement for a one on one chat with a fully qualified therapist when it comes to helping people get over trauma or depression particularly when it comes to depression caused by external life changes such as marriage break ups or work related depression.