- The growing mental health crisis among young people highlights the need for early detection and treatment of mental health disorders.
- A new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge has found that social support robots (SARs) can serve as a potential diagnostic tool for mental health.
- The study marks the first time a robot has been used to assess a child’s mental health, according to the researchers.
- The study shows that robots are more likely to identify cases of happiness anomalies than self-reports completed by children or reports made by parents.
- Still, rather than using robots to provide mental health interventions, researchers used them to detect and diagnose mental health problems in children.
In the United States, even before the pandemic, an estimated 4.4% of children ages 3 to 17 (about 2.7 million) were diagnosed with depression.
Experts believe that stress from COVID-19 is leading to an increase in depression and anxiety among young people.
reported that mental health-related emergency room visits for children ages 5 to 11 increased 24% in 2020 compared to the previous year.
At the same time, there is still a lack of adequate mental health care and access in the United States.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 91 million Americans live in areas where there is a shortage of mental health providers, and at least 1,846 psychiatrists and 5,931 are needed to fill this gap. other practitioners are estimated to be required.
Recently, a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge studied the impact of social assistance robots (SAR). SAR may serve as an assessment and diagnostic tool in areas where mental health professionals are in short supply.
Their work was presented this week at the 2022 IEEE International Conference on Robots and Human Interactive Communication in Naples, Italy.
For this study, researchers selected 28 children aged 8 to 13 from Cambridgeshire, England. The average age of the participants was 9.5 years, 21 females and 7 males.
Children who had already been diagnosed with a neurological or psychological disorder were excluded from the study.
First, participants answered an online questionnaire about their health status. In addition, parents or guardians completed questionnaires regarding their child’s health.
Young participants then spent 45 minutes with the Nao robot created by SoftBank Robotics. The robot then administered a short mood and emotion questionnaire that measures symptoms of depression and a revised child anxiety and depression scale.
In addition, the robot asked the children about their happy and sad memories of the last week, showing them a picture and asking them questions about it.
Researchers found that questionnaires administered by robots were more likely to identify cases of health problems than children’s online self-reports or parent or guardian reports.
Some participants shared information with the robot that they did not share on self-report.
Study co-author Professor Hattis Gunnes, Professor of Emotional Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Cambridge and director of the Institute for Emotional Intelligence and Robotics, explained: medical news today Among the participants, “a group that may have well-being-related concerns” were more likely to provide negative response ratings on the robot-led questionnaire.
“An interesting finding here is that when they interact with the robot, their reactions become more negative,” said Professor Gunes.
Social assistance robots have previously demonstrated their potential as tools to improve accessibility to care, the researchers explain in their paper. For example, a 2020 study showed that robots could help assess risk factors for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“Robots have been used for a wide variety of tasks. Robots have this physical embodiment, unlike mobile phones or virtual characters or even videos, which makes them effective at certain things. has been shown,” said Professor Gunnes.
And despite the potential dangers of letting kids use electronics for extended periods of time, working one-on-one with a robot is different from screen time, says Professor Gunes.
“This is a physical interaction, right? So it’s not virtual. It’s not video — they’re physically interacting with a physical entity,” she said.
Professor Gunes also pointed out an important aspect of this research. The “child-like robot” used in the study was less than two feet tall.
“Here’s a robot that looks like a child and sounds like a child.” You are not an adult.”
– Professor Hatice Gunes, Ph.D., Professor of Emotional Intelligence and Robotics, University of Cambridge
Diane Hodge, Ph.D., director of the Department of Social Work at Radford University in Virginia, LCSW, previously worked as a clinical social worker, using puppets and puppets to make her pediatric clients feel more at ease. said it helped. career.
robot, she said MNTis the 21st century version of those puppets.
“I’m all about technology that really empowers and helps people,” says Hodge. “More kids are getting used to it today, so we expect that.”
Hodge also noted that in this study, researchers used robots to assess children’s well-being rather than using them to deliver mental health care interventions. It’s about making it accessible,” she said.
Hodge also highlighted how well the Nao robot was able to identify “happiness-related abnormalities” in children compared to those revealed by humans. “[That] It shows that if we hadn’t done anything, yes they wouldn’t have caught it,” she said.
According to Professor Gunes, her research interests evolved after having a baby in 2018.
In the future, Professor Gunes says he hopes to study how children respond to interacting with diagnostic robots via video chat.
Researchers are already preparing to conduct a study similar to the one presented at the conference, only with a more even ratio of male and female participants, according to Professor Gunnes.
“We really want to see if the findings are consistent across genders,” she said.