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This article was published on October 7, 2019

This bot that helps people with depression could be the future of therapy

This bot that helps people with depression could be the future of therapy Image by: Flow Neuroscience

In the UK, approximately one in four people experience mental health issues, according to the mental health charity Mind. Although illnesses including anxiety and depression aren’t a new phenomenon, research proves that mental health issues are at an all time high — and national health services, like the NHS, are struggling to keep up with the growing need for more accessible resources. 

Multiple studies have proven that technology, specifically social media, is detrimental to people’s mental wellbeing. However, tech is taking on some of the responsibility to help those struggling with their mental health. One project is the “Flow” app, developed by the Malmö-based medical device company, Flow Neuroscience. The chatbot therapist aims to help those struggling with their mental health while they wait  to be seen by a medical professional.

The free app, which is currently available on iOS — set to launch on Android within the month — engages users in daily conversations to offer self-help techniques, mood tracking features, curated videos to better visualize mental health, and meditation and mental exercises. 

The app was created by a team of clinical psychologists and machine learning experts and is based on the latest psychology and neuroscience research. The virtual therapist guides users through 18 sessions on why sleep, exercise, nutrition, and meditation are the main pillars in recovering from depression while gathering mood data to offer personalized behavioral therapy.

Screenshot from a conversation with the virtual therapist.

“The ‘always-on’ source of therapy provided by Flow ensures people get the help they need as quickly as possible,” Daniel Mansson, Clinical Psychologist, CEO and Co-Founder of Flow said in a press release. “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.”

While there’s hundreds of apps out there to help you better understand meditation and mindfulness, there’s been little innovation in regards to treating depression. However Flow’s Headset has been approved in the UK and EU to treat major depressive disorder effectively. The chatbot also works alongside Flow’s headset, a behavioral therapy brain stimulator to treat depression without the need for medication.

The New England Journal of Medicine and the British Journal of Psychiatry, outline 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.

Depression is associated with lowered activity in an area in the front of the brain, as explained by the video above. According to Flow’s findings, 24 percent of its users overcame their depression completely while 41 percent felt at least 50 percent better after 6 weeks of brain stimulation treatment. 

Currently, Flow is in talks with the NHS to potentially make its headset available on prescription, but for the moment it costs £399 in the UK. 

As the company outlines, this type of behavioral therapy may not work for everyone, just like prescribed medication doesn’t. While technology may not be the answer to diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental health illness, it’s exciting to see how innovative technology is being used for good while reducing some of the strain placed on the NHS.

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