Study finds AI chatbot could help college students with anxiety, depression


Digital mental health interventions may be an effective way to help college students with anxiety and depression, according to a new study published in JMIR

Researchers found the groups of students using an AI chatbot called Tess reported a significant reduction in anxiety symptoms. This was not the case for students in the control group. 

There was also a statistically significant difference in the symptoms of depression reported by the intervention group compared with the control group. 

“This study offers evidence that AI can serve as a cost-effective and accessible therapeutic agent. Although not designed to appropriate the role of a trained therapist, integrative psychological AI emerges as a feasible option for delivering support,” authors of the study wrote. 


At baseline, individuals in the control group had a higher mean PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire-9) score, which is used to assess depression, than their peers in the intervention groups. In fact, in the informational control group, the mean PHQ-9 score was 8.17. In the first intervention group, the mean was 6.67 and the second was 7.04. 

Researchers found that individuals in intervention group 1, which had daily check-ins and access to the chatbot for two weeks, had statistically significant differences in PHQ-9 reduction than those in the control group. 

“A statistically significant difference was found between the control group and group 1, which had unlimited access to Tess with daily check-ins for 2 weeks (P=.02) as measured by the PHQ-9,” the authors wrote.

Researchers found that over a four-week period, the two intervention groups that had access to the chatbot had lowered their PHQ-9, whereas the control group’s PHQ-9 score increased over that same period. 

The control group also had a higher GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) score at baseline, which is used to measure anxiety, than the intervention groups. During the four-week study, the intervention groups also saw a decrease in anxiety, and the control group’s GAD score rose slightly 


A total of 75 participants were included in the study. Students were split into two test groups and one control group. The first test group was made up of 24 students. This group had access to daily check-ins and the AI chatbot for two weeks. Intervention group 2 was made up of 26 students and received bi-weekly check-in messages over a four-week period and the Tess content for four weeks.

Students in the control group received an electronic link to the NIMH eBook. 


Digital mental health tools have been on the rise in recent years. Last year, behavioral health companies saw $2.4 billion in digital health funding, according to a Rock Health report. That trend hasn’t stopped. Midyear 2021, Rock Health research reported that the digital mental health space had raked in $1.5 billion in the first six months. 

Companies are starting to focus on the college-age sector. In July, Mantra Health, maker of a behavioral health tool for college students, rolled out a new program designed to support individuals with bipolar 1 disorder. The company previously offered programs for students living with bipolar 2 disorder and other mental health conditions. 




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