Mental health has undergone a transformation in Ireland over several decades – in strategies for change and awareness, in wider discussions about mental health in our own lives and, in particular, for the lives of students.
In colleges and universities around Ireland students are offered free counselling services. There is Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from 22 November. There have been calls for greater government investment in student counselling services made by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). And two months ago a project designed to address young people’s mental health in Irish third level education was launched.
At the core of these strategies is the desire to support students’ well-being. These services are invaluable support systems, yet not all of these services offer 24/7 communication with students, and they can, unfortunately, be limited by time and funding. This is where chatbots can become part of the solution.
Bot technology is emerging as a potential mental health aid. Recently Facebook Messenger launched Woebot, a chatbot for mental health. Woebot doesn’t replace therapy but offers a friendly point of contact for anyone who feels like they need someone to talk to. The benefits of chatbots as ‘digital interventions’ as an option for people who don’t want face-to-face counselling, or who need support outside of regular hours, include instant access to self-help resources and an early diagnostic tool for screening.
Mental health is on our minds more than ever, yet in the Healthy Ireland Survey 2016, 10% of respondents indicated that they may have a mental health problem and 20% said they currently have or have had, a mental health problem. Of the total number of suicides in Ireland last year, 11.5% of these were men and women aged between 15 and 24. Chatbots are no substitute for human interaction and therapies, however, research into their capabilities show that they could provide effective support for users.