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By 2021, more than 150 million people in the WHO European Region were facing mental health problems. The situation has worsened over the years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as access to mental health services has become more difficult, and factors such as increased stress, economic hardship, conflict and violence have highlighted the fragility of mental health.

At the same time, artificial intelligence (AI) has brought a revolution in medicine and healthcare. It is now seen as an innovative tool for providing mental health services, as well as for collecting data and monitoring mental health problems of individuals and populations. AI-assisted tools can harness digitized data from a variety of sources, such as electronic medical records, medical imaging and handwritten clinical notes, to automate tasks, support healthcare professionals and improve understanding of the causes of complex mental disorders.

The “Regional Action Plan for Digital Health in the WHO European Region 2023-2030”, launched in September 2022, also recognizes the importance of innovation in predictive analytics using big data and AI to improve health.

Dr. David Novillo-Ortiz, Regional Advisor for Data and Digital Health at WHO/Europe, and co-author of the study, emphasizes, “As the use of AI in healthcare increases, it is essential to assess the current state of its application in mental health research to better understand trends, gaps, opportunities and challenges.”

Will AI eventually replace psychiatrists? It’s unlikely, but it will undoubtedly be of great help in deepening our understanding of mental illness, improving patient follow-up and even preventing problems. In France, mental illness is the leading cause of disability, absenteeism from work and death among young adults. The episode of the COVID-19 pandemic only aggravated the situation by causing an increase in depressive disorders among this population.

In the arsenal of digital tools, the smartphone is fast becoming a major asset for improving the relationship between patient and therapist, following the example of the Jardin Mental application developed by a young company supported by the French Ministry of Health. This application enables patients to keep a diary recording information about their daily lives, such as sleep, diet, mood and medication intake. This enables them to better manage their pathology, while the doctor saves precious consultation time by having precise information on the patient.

Have you ever felt the urge to talk to someone in the middle of the night, without having the bravery or the ability to schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist? Have you ever found yourself frantically typing questions into Google, whether to discover the best diet for your needs, the ideal training program to achieve your sporting goals or even strategies for advancing your professional career? And how many of us have wished we had a personal coach on hand to guide us in our professional ambitions, help us develop skills, or resolve tricky situations at work?

Imagine a world where, after a difficult day, you could not only share your concerns, but also receive advice on how to overcome professional obstacles, develop strategies for an upcoming project, or even learn how to better manage your time and resources. All without having to schedule an expensive appointment or adjust your schedule for in-person coaching.

What if Chat GPT and other generative AI were the answer to this incessant quest for information and support? “Chat GPT, today has been a difficult day, could you be a good listener?” “I want to start a fitness program. Where should I start?” “Would you have any suggestions for healthy meals to plan for the week?”

The main attraction of these tools lies in their ease of access and availability. Unlike a healthcare professional or personal coach, who can be expensive, geographically limited, or available at specific times, these tools are accessible online, often for free or at minimal cost, and are available 24/7. For people living in remote areas or with limited resources to consult a professional on a regular basis, this accessibility might seem revolutionary. What’s more, those of us who are more reserved might see it as an opportunity to express ourselves without fear of being judged or misunderstood.

While this may sound attractive, it is crucial to dispel certain aspects of this approach, and professionals, particularly the medical profession, are expressing concerns about the implications of these new practices.

Chat GPT, for all its achievements, remains essentially a machine. While she may have passed medical or law school exams with flying colors, she can’t replicate the years of practical experience, wisdom or sense of insight that a true professional coach brings to his clients.

If you’re using a generative AI to help you manage your weight, it’s important to note that it won’t be able to prescribe the essential analyses required before you begin any steps. In medicine, dietetics and other related fields, many recommendations are specific to each individual, which means careful assessment and a thorough understanding of the patient’s personal history, needs and goals.

Another area of concern is the potential for error or misunderstanding. If a user receives inappropriate advice or interprets it incorrectly, this can have serious consequences, especially in health-related areas. Although this risk also exists with human healthcare professionals, the latter generally have established protocols to minimize such errors, and are able to adjust their advice more effectively in real-time according to their patients’ reactions.

Chat GPT and other AI models open the door to many opportunities, and undeniably provide us with preliminaries to help and reflect on our support needs. They can be invaluable additions to our search for information and understanding. However, it would be risky, at this stage, to use them to replace human interaction and advice, whether in our personal or professional lives.

The exploration of AI is fascinating, and it is undeniable that its ability to accompany us in our daily lives will continue to progress and evolve. In this quest for exploration, it is essential to bear in mind the limits of AI and to recognize the inestimable value of human expertise, empathy, understanding and experience.

A propos de Mathilde Thioux

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