How AI-based app WYSA is helping Gen Z’s mental health

Offering pragmatic solutions to mental health struggles, WYSA is using AI chat algorithms and questionnaires to tailor emotional support for Gen Z users.

It seems AI is everywhere these days. Whether it’s used to help artists create paintings from scratch, or to quicken disaster response times via satellites, we’re finding more innovative ways to use algorithms and automated systems every day.

You can now add mental health support to that list with the release of WYSA, an AI-based app that’s designed to offer students and Gen Zers professional advice to better understand their own wellbeing.  Self-described as an ‘emotionally intelligent’ chatbot, WYSA gives users a questionnaire to fill out before delivering specific tips on how to cope with lockdown and COVID-19 disruption depending on your answers. Results are a mixture of tailored support from qualified professionals and personalised AI chat responses.

WYSA is part of a growing number of apps that use new programmed features to deliver services in unconventional industries – by automating the sign up process it allows more people to get the help they need at faster rates. It’s handy too, considering that second lockdowns are imminent across the UK and beyond this week, and soon it’ll be illegal to meet up with anybody. Fun times.

Expect to see more apps and platforms designed by and created specifically for Gen Z in the future. We’re the most anxious generation in recent memory, and with COVID-19 bringing up all sorts of disruption to our everyday schedules, the time has never been more urgent for support mechanisms and services.

How exactly does WYSA work?

It’s easy to be sceptical over AI-based mental health applications. If you’ve watched YouTube at all over the last few years you may remember the controversy surrounding BetterHelp, which faced criticism for being misleading and trying to sell itself as a full on replacement to real-life therapy.

Things have come a long way since 2018, however, and new services like WYSA offer far more transparent and comprehensive experiences that are focused on professional pragmatism. You’re given tools to help build, improve, and understand your own mental wellbeing rather than literally replacing one-on-one counselling. Consider it as an additional toolkit to help you understand how to approach mental health issues and learn more about yourself.

WYSA uses a playful penguin character that represents the app’s chatbot feature. Anything you send over is anonymous, and you don’t need a username to get started. You’ll be asked whether you prefer to work through issues on an individual basis or opt for a therapist if it’s an affordable option. After that you’ll be sent through to a chat feature that can give you help based on your specific needs.

The interface looks similar to Facebook Messenger and the AI even says it’s typing after you send your messages… though why an automated system needs to type anything I’m not quite sure.

It feels a little weird at first, but the chat bot will send you guidance and tools – including step by step programmes to focus on your personal struggles. I should also mention that WYSA complies with the NHS’s DCB 0129 standards for clinical safety and is backed by professionals at ORCHA, the top global health app evaluation organisation. It’s got the big endorsements to back it up, and you may find it a help on your journey to better mental health.

Where else is mental health business booming?

This isn’t the first service of it’s kind, of course, and Gen Zers are keen to tap into the business potential of mental health support platforms.

22-year-old Ben Towers has founded Tahora for example, an app designed to promote office communities and wellbeing via common interests between employees. You can organise local events, interact remotely with colleagues who are working from home, and gain access to mental health coaching tools in much the same way as WYSA.

Elsewhere, Sanctus is a youth-orientated brand that connects mental health coaches with small businesses. The company promotes workplace discussion about personal wellbeing and offers a variety of therapy solutions for businesses to use. It was founded by two young men who felt there wasn’t enough positive action being taken at work for employees – and many of the core staff are Gen Zers themselves.

These brands and companies alongside WYSA are only set to expand as mental health becomes more normalised and discussed among workforces with increasingly larger Gen Z bases. While AI systems can never replace real face-to-face counselling and therapy, services like these help to get the ball rolling, and can promote confidence in people who may feel too anxious or nervous to dive straight into the heavy stuff.

Remote treatments and information centres will be needed over the next decade or so too, with pandemic problems likely to pop up routinely and climate anxiety increasing amongst the general public. It may be worth checking these platforms out for yourself if you’re feeling mentally troubled and are at a loss of where to go.

If anything, you get to chat to a robot penguin. What more do you need?

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