With more and more research confirming a positive link between social media usage (Facebook) and loneliness, it is no surprise that the incidence of depression has soared over the last ten or so years. So dire is the situation, that according to a recent report by the World Health Organization, every 40 seconds someone somewhere in the world dies by suicide.
To make matters worse, social media usage, much like smartphone usage, is on the rise, which means that the probability of suicide rates declining anytime in the near future is depressingly low (no pun intended).
Facebook and Mental Health in 2018
Having hosted numerous “Facebook Lives” where young broadcasters took their own lives, suicide has become a fairly sensitive issue for Facebook. But the social media giant need not surrender to this grim reality… and it isn’t. Last year, Facebook rolled out a software that uses pattern-recognition technology to detect at-risk users based on the content they post online and then contacts the appropriate first respondents.
But there’s still plenty that Facebook can do to spot these suicidal tendencies in its user base. And although many of the ideas mentioned in this article may open door to a host of privacy concerns, we are generally more willing to share our personal data if it presents an opportunity to alleviate some of society’s bigger issues.
Opportunities for Facebook in 2019
Given that the biggest obstacle holding back sufferers of mental health disorders from seeking help is the associated stigma and fear of judgment, there are a number of different ways Facebook can further fine-tune its algorithm in order to save even more lives. With virtually unlimited data and resources at its fingertips, Facebook can quickly and effectively:
- Identify at-risk users and, with the help of Facebook’s Oculus Rift, create simulations to help ease depressive symptoms. These VR goggles can also provide users with their own version of 3D computer-simulated exposure therapy, recasting harmful and potentially destructive thoughts into positive, healthier and more objective ones.
- Use Deep Learning to replicate the professionalism of a certified therapist and build automated ‘bots’ that interact with at-risk users in a way that does not implicate personal privacy.
- Integrate AI capabilities with Robotics, where at-risk users are given pocket robot ‘companions’ (not too dissimilar to MARCo) that essentially come to life and take on the functions of a personal ‘therapist’ or life coach.
The Integration of Mobile
Going beyond Facebook, another solution could be a mobile app that uses AI and machine learning to monitor the location, interactions, and movements of at-risk people, and intervene when necessary. Integrating these apps with ‘mediator’ devices worn directly on the body (see biotechnology) could also help to rectify a user’s bad habits and behaviours whilst simultaneously saving them time and money.
Using AI and VR to make therapeutic services cheaper and more accessible to at-risk users could go a long way in alleviating the mental health epidemic that teens and young adults are facing today. Doing away with the fear of being judged or stigmatised will encourage people to open up more and reduce self-harming tendencies, which can have wide and broad implications for the economy as a whole.