College is a transformative period in one’s life that offers individuals with enriching experiences. Higher academic institutions are the crux in one’s ability to further mold their identity, shape their passions into real change, and pursue majors that challenge their intellect. However, the demand to meet class expectations alongside the ability to seamlessly balance work and personal lives can affect a college student. Academic stress, relationship stress, and exhaustion are some of the most common symptoms a college student may endure with no immediate solution present. Certain issues can lead college students to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression as a result of their stressors. While mental health in the United States becomes increasingly more visible in academic institutions, it is important to highlight several, feasible solutions that can be taken into consideration for students who may require greater assistance. Recently, mental health chatbots have been created for such issues.
An AI chatbot functions almost as a human in which users can send voice or text messages on a digital platform. The mental health chatbot is able to respond to the user in a conversational manner, ultimately benefiting individuals who may have difficulty communicating with others. To clarify, college students’ schedules vary greatly and can be time intensive. A person who is experiencing negative emotions may not always find an individual to speak to at any given moment, or may have social circles in which mental health remains stigmatized; the individual may have an inability to speak with certain individuals due to the fear of judgment. Moreover, financial barriers may prevent individuals from becoming actively involved in counseling or therapy sessions, thus limiting one valuable resource. Some mental health resources may not be accessible for certain individuals due to location or lack of time. As such, mental health chatbots have been argued as a feasible, cost-effective solution for college students to look into.
Several studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of various chatbots such as Woebot, Replika, and Wysa. The results of different studies that tested on populations with pre-diagnosed anxiety or depression and college students who report similar symptoms have relatively been positive. Features such as storytelling, goal setting, and personal messages have resulted in a reduction of depressive symptoms among participants. Researchers have noticed that participants are able to disclose more information regarding their mental well-being, and thus experience feelings of belongingness and high self-esteem.
Although chatbots have been met with increasing positivity for its features, it is imperative to mention certain consequences that can arise from their use. For example, participants from previous studies reported their concern with data breaches when sharing information online. The risk of exposure can deter users from accessing a powerful mental health source especially if their options are limited. AI mental health chatbots possess a range of qualities that can benefit college students with improving their psychological well-being. AI corporations for such chatbots should prioritize user concerns such as bugs and data breach risks to further improve this digital intervention tool.
- De Nieva, Johan Oswin, et al. "Investigating students’ use of a mental health chatbot to alleviate academic stress." 6th International ACM In-Cooperation HCI and UX Conference. 2020.
- D'alfonso, Simon, et al. "Artificial intelligence-assisted online social therapy for youth mental health." Frontiers in psychology 8 (2017): 796.
- Dhesi, Meera. A qualitative study to investigate in what ways are the distinctive features of synchronous text-based counselling experienced as being helpful and/or unhelpful by young people?. Diss. University of Roehampton, 2019.