Mental Health

published : 2023-08-26

AI Chatbot Seeks to Aid Women with Postpartum Depression

An App-based AI Tool from The University of Texas Aims to Fill the Gap in Mental Heath Care for New Moms

A woman clutching her belly, tears glistening in her eyes as she stares woefully into the distance. She embodies the silent struggle of postpartum depression. Taken with Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

Postpartum depression, known formally as perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), affects approximately one in eight women, according to CDC reports. With a menacing shortfall of mental health practitioners across the nation, an overwhelming number of these women may find it arduous to access the necessary care and support.

The University of Texas is at the forefront of bridging this healthcare divide, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to create a solution that tackles common postpartum problems. Collaborating with the renowned nonprofit, Postpartum Support International, their research team is working on crafting a novel AI chatbot. This tool will be at the fingertips of women in need, accessible via a free app.

The algorithms driving the chatbot are specifically trained to address prevalent postpartum issues, whether they revolve around personal relations or breastfeeding dilemmas. Interestingly, the team's research has revealed a deterring 'stigma' connected with PMAD, making many women reluctant to seek the care they require.

Miriam Mikhelson, one of the researchers, says, 'A lot of them just felt so misunderstood and so invalidated. It’s not only so hard to find time and money and availability to see somebody that could potentially help … but even when you do, you still might end up with someone who is just not addressing your needs.'

A professional therapist engaged in a video call, illustrative of the connected yet remote ways of providing mental health support. The therapist should show empathy, making the viewer feel at ease. Taken with Nikon D850.

The University of Texas, summarizing the project, states, 'This project will develop a chatbot logic structure that draws from research with a cross-section of mothers, thus enhancing our ability to better understand what kinds of support they seek from care providers.' The research findings have the potential to illuminate the societal and cultural dynamics that fashion the specific type of help sought by those grappling with postpartum depression.

Common symptoms of postpartum depression, as per CDC, include feelings of anger, increased instances of crying, withdrawing from loved ones, feelings of numbness or disconnect with the baby, concerns about hurting the baby, or feeling inadequate in caring for the infant.

Michiel Rauws, founder and CEO of Cass, an AI startup that focuses on mental health assistance, speaks about his firsthand experience of AI chatbots offering support to those suffering from postpartum depression. 'Together we have published two peer-reviewed research articles on its impact.' Rauws underlines the effectiveness of AI technology in reaching mothers in remote places.

Yet, AI does have its limitations. Rauws explains, 'AI does not replace human empathy and support. Chatbots are very effective at delivering cost-effective, self-help support. From our work with partners in Texas, we learned it will be important for this program to be available in Spanish, and AI helps to break down language barriers to make information and services accessible to all.' Nonetheless, relying solely on the chatbot could undercut the quality of care, which makes it crucial that the AI tool is integrated with regular care pathways.

An AI chatbot interface on a smartphone screen, symbolizing the power of technology harnessed to provide health care solutions. The app is visibly open to a page where help is being provided for postpartum depression. Taken with Sony a7R IV.

Monte Swarup, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN and founder of HPV HUB, while unconnected with the University of Texas project, believes in the potential of AI chatbots to buttress support for women battling postpartum depression. She emphasizes, however, that AI is a supplement, not a stand-in, for one-on-one treatment and therapy.

Swarup warns, 'AI does not replace human empathy and support. It also will not be able to measure whether a patient is getting better.'

While chatbots can play a valuable supporting role in an inclusive treatment plan, Swarup cautions that more extensive research is anticipated to firmly establish their efficacy in assisting with postpartum depression. It is hoped that the chatbot being developed by the University of Texas will be ready for use by 2024.