Mental health chatbot Woebot debuts for Facebook

A mental health chatbot to help those with anxiety and depression has been launched for Facebook Messenger. 

Named Woebot, users can search for the chatbot through the messaging platform and immediately ask questions. Woebot’s responses are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to help address the user’s worries.

CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on reframing negative thought processes. It attempts to break down overwhelming problems into smaller, more manageable parts.

Woebot is completely robotic and only responds to information it is given and when the user wants to talk.

Similarly, Woebot is not intended as a middleman to professional healthcare like Sensely’s virtual nurse or Babylon Health’s chatbot are.

Rather than suggest a treatment or diagnosis, it simulates interaction with a friend or loved one, directing them to resources.

This way, a user is more likely to share their feelings without being intimidated by a medical setting.

“It’s more of a choose-your-own-adventure of how the conversation will play out,” Woebot Labs CEO Dr. Alison Darcy told MobiHealthNews. “We’re not trying to replicate or replace how therapy with a real psychologist or psychiatrist would unfold, but create a new experience altogether for people who might not otherwise seek out mental health treatment.”

Woebot was originally built at Stanford University to help students. The team behind it then chose to expand its application to all adults.

It is significant that the chatbot already has some evidence behind it. In a trial published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health, people that used the chatbot almost every day for two weeks saw a significant reduction in their depressive symptoms.

Many companies are looking to chatbots as a method to improve access to mental health services. Koko, a New York-based startup, is a crowdsourced form of CBT that relies on AI to respond to users. Another is Joy – an AI-based chatbot in development that helps people with anxiety.

Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.