UK trials AI therapy: Young adults most open to talking to AI-powered chatbots about mental health
May 20th, 2024, Bhavika Bansal

UK trials AI therapy: Young adults most open to talking to AI-powered chatbots about mental health

Amidst a national shortage of qualified therapists, the UK's National Health Service has recently begun offering mental health services to teens and adults through Wysa, an AI chatbot-based application. With traditional therapy becoming costly and difficult to access, a new wave of many similar AI-powered chatbots is emerging to offer support and guidance. But how willing are Britons to discuss their mental health with such bots?

Data from a new YouGov Surveys: Self-Serve poll of 1,500 UK adults reveals that just a fifth (19%) of Britons are familiar with applications that use AI chatbots to offer mental health support and offers deeper insights into their preferences and concerns about using such chatbots.

A few key findings that emerge from the research include:

  • 18-to-24-year-old Britons (31%) are the most comfortable talking about mental health concerns with a confidential AI chatbot.
  • Ease of access and availability (48%) is one of the most appealing things about AI chatbots offering mental health services among Britons who are familiar with them.
  • Potential misdiagnoses are a top concern among those familiar with AI mental health chatbots
  • Just 18% of Britons familiar with AI mental health chatbots would find it preferable for such bot-based applications to exist as standalone platforms.

How comfortable are people talking to AI about their mental health?

Just a fifth of all polled respondents say they would be comfortable sharing their mental health concerns with an AI chatbot instead of a human therapist (20%).

Nearly four-fifths of Britons above the age of 55 (78%) and 70% of 40-to-54-year-olds say they would be uncomfortable talking about their mental health to an AI chatbot as opposed to a human therapist.

YouGov conducted a similar study in the US and found that Americans appear to be far more comfortable with AI chatbots offering mental health services.

To understand the draws of talking to a mental health chatbot, we asked Britons who are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ familiar with AI mental health chatbots about what factors are most appealing about these types of chatbots.

Nearly half of this group of respondents find the ease of access most appealing about these AI chatbots (48%) followed by a third who appreciate the non-judgmental interactions such applications offer (33%).

More than a quarter of respondents find the privacy and anonymity appealing (28%), and more than a fifth like that AI chatbots can offer supplemental support in between sessions with a human therapist (22%) and personalised recommendations (21%).

What concerns people about using AI chatbots that offer mental health services?

While nearly two-thirds of respondents are worried about potential misdiagnoses (64%), more than half of respondents are concerned by the limited emotional abilities of chatbots (59%), lack of access to human support (57%), and potential for inaccurate guidance (52%).

The user interface of applications that offer such AI powered services is one of the least concerning factors for our respondents (19%).

Would Britons prefer AI chatbots integrated into existing mental health services?

Recently, the NHS also integrated Limbic, a conversational chatbot that helps with patient screening and referrals, into its services to offer support to clinicians and help them prioritise high-risk patients.

Data from the survey reveals that 55% of Britons who are familiar with AI chatbots that offer mental health services prefer if such chatbots were integrated into existing services.

On the other hand, just 18% prefer for such mental health chatbots to exist as standalone platforms, while 10% would be okay with either.

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Methodology: YouGov polled 1,500 British adults online on May 13-14, 2024. The survey was carried out through YouGov Surveys: Self-serve. Data is weighted by age, gender, education level, region, and social grade. Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Self-serve.