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Artificial Intelligence in Mental Health Services: An Environmental Scan

Artificial intelligence (AI) in medicine has been characterized as a major disruptor with the potential to change the way health care is delivered. Interest in AI in Canada began early and is continuing, with a number of advanced AI research and development labs now established. This report is based on information from a limited literature search (English documents published between January 1, 2014 and September 5, 2019) and targeted stakeholder consultations. Stakeholder interviews — which included individuals involved in AI and mental health via research, industry, clinical practice, and lived experience — sought to supplement information from the literature and provide perspectives for decision-makers.

Key findings

This Environmental Scan explored the types of AI emerging or currently in use in mental health. The scan also aimed to identify AI research and development initiatives, professional groups and organizations using or developing AI for mental health care (across Canada and internationally), and policy considerations for AI as they relate to mental health.

AI use in mental health care

While several research and development projects are in progress, AI has not been widely integrated into clinical practice — although some AI programs are being used or explored for use in mental health services. In diagnosis and prevention, AI is mainly used to determine the presence of mental illness or assess risk (e.g., by analyzing words in messages or detecting changes in behaviour), and to direct users to appropriate support. In treatment, AI usually takes the form of a conversational agent that delivers psychological treatment (e.g., cognitive behavioural therapy).

Future research could focus on the suitability of AI for mental health interventions (i.e., whether they should be used as a screening tool, a replacement for human therapists, or an adjunct intervention) and on including individuals with lived experience (e.g., asking them why they use AI and for what purpose).

For more information, read the Literature Review in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Results From a Literature Review and an Environmental Scan.

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