ChatGPT could provide pivotal improvement in depression treatment, study finds

New research looked at the platform’s ability to recommend medications and therapy

Maggie O'Neill
Tuesday 17 October 2023 20:31 BST
Talinda Bennington on her late husbands depression

Artificial intelligence may have the potential to help healthcare providers treat depression without bias, according to new research.

The study, published in Family Medicine and Community Health, found that ChatGPT can often help patients struggling with depression figure out a treatment plan.

Furthermore, the technology may be helpful in eliminating social class and gender biases in doctors’ offices, the study found. “Unlike primary care physicians, ChatGPT showed no gender or socioeconomic biases in its recommendations,” the study authors wrote.

The researchers behind the new study assessed ChatGPT’s ability to recognize depression by feeding the platform vignettes of people exhibiting symptoms of depression. There were eight versions of these vignettes that depicted a diverse group of people of different social classes and genders.

The study authors compared ChatGPT’s recommendations for these patients to recommendations made by primary care physicians to determine how the AI platform may be helpful in doctors’ offices.

In cases of mild depression, two different versions of ChatGPT recommended psychotherapy 95 per cent and 97.5 per cent of the time; primary care physicians, on the other hand, recommended psychotherapy in only 4.3 per cent of these cases.

The two versions of ChatGPT assessed showed a preference for recommending antidepressants among patients with severe depression, while primary care physicians were more likely to recommend a mix of antidepressants and hypnotics or anxiolytics.

The new study is particularly relevant now, as many people began experiencing depression during the pandemic. About four in 10 adults were experiencing symptoms of either anxiety or depression by early 2021, according to health data firm KFF. Symptoms of depression during the pandemic were more pronounced among women, young adults, and people who experienced job loss.

More recent data shows that the trend hasn’t righted itself yet: In 2023, about half of adults aged 18 to 24 said they were experiencing anxiety or depression symptoms, per KFF. About 36 per cent of women reported experiencing these symptoms, compared to 28 per cent of men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of depression can vary widely from person to person. They include feeling anxious or sad often or consistently; not wanting to participate in activities that were previously fun; irritability; becoming frustrated easily; restlessness; having difficulty falling and staying asleep; sleeping too much; waking too early; changes in appetite; headaches; stomach problems that don’t improve with treatment; aches and pains; difficulty remembering details; difficulty concentrating; difficulty making decisions; fatigue; feelings of guilt or helplessness; feelings of worthlessness; and considering self harm or suicide.

About one-sixth of adults will experience depression at some point during their life, while the condition usually affects about 16 million US adults annually, per the CDC.

Though anyone can experience depression, certain conditions can increase your risk. People who are at a higher risk include those whose relatives have also struggled with depression; those who have experienced stressful or traumatic events; those who drink or use drugs; and those who have medical problems such as stroke, cancer, or chronic pain.

While the new research provides evidence that ChatGPT may be useful in medical settings, more studies need to be done to evaluate how the platform can best serve people with depression, the study authors said. “It underlines the need for ongoing research to verify the dependability of [ChatGPT’s] suggestions,” the study authors wrote. “Implementing such AI systems could bolster the quality and impartiality of mental health services.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in