Two-thirds (66%) of 25- to 34-year-olds would prefer to talk about their feelings with artificial intelligence (AI) than with a loved one, according to new findings from The University of Law (ULaw).
The University’s findings uncover a worrying loneliness epidemic among this age range, with 61% admitting to experiencing loneliness on at least a weekly basis. This figure is almost three times the rate of those aged 65+ (22%) and significantly higher than the national average (41%).
However, according to a leading psychology academic at ULaw, online communities and the rise of AI could help turn the tide on the growing loneliness crisis.
Overall, more than 1 in 3 people (36%) said they would prefer to turn to an automated ChatBot than a loved one to share their feelings, while 39% agreed that if they could access mental health support through an AI ChatBot, they would.
Julie Prescott, PhD, head of psychology at ULaw, comments: “There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests advances in technology could play a pivotal role in supporting people’s mental wellbeing. In a 2021 study, I and others found that groups on social media such as Facebook are viewed by users as useful online resources to gain emotional support and a sense of community.
“The rise of AI feels very much like an evolution of this online support, providing users with a space to discuss their feelings and emotions with a sense of anonymity, acting in a sense like an online journal.”
Again, this figure increases significantly among those aged 25–34, where 70% said they would access mental health support through AI software if they could.
So, could AI really be the answer to supporting the UK’s mental health needs? According to the research, the jury is still out.
Prescott and other researchers conducted a study in 2022 that suggests there is still much to learn about AI before realising its practical applications. The study concludes stating that “a strong message of caution must be conveyed insofar as expert input is needed to safely leverage existing data, such as big data from social media or that which is accessed by prevalent market-leading chatbots.”
Prescott continues: “As with almost every other industry, mental health professionals are looking to AI to find ways in which it may be implemented effectively. However, while artificial intelligence has seen a boom in mainstream popularity lately, there is still much to be learned before we see it rolled out in a medical capacity, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see AI therapists anytime soon.
“What is encouraging, however, is the number of people engaging with online tools and resources to feel better connected to others and support their mental wellbeing. Wellbeing apps and games, online forums, and even social media can all have a positive impact on an individual’s ability to feel less isolated.”
When asked in ULaw’s survey which online resources would be most useful for them in managing their mental well-being, 33% of respondents said online games, 29% said live chats with others, and 24% said online communities.
The University of Law is one of the longest-established specialist providers of legal education in the UK, offering a wide range of professional courses including law, business, policing, criminology, psychology, computer science, and education.