Aisoy Blog #6

Can robots help to improve mental health better than people?

  Can robots help to improve mental health? Can they even do better than humans? If the answer for both questions was no, this blog entry would simply not exist.  
Mental Health

The Covid-19 pandemic is one of the most stressful moments of our recent history. And that is negatively affecting to the mental health of most of the population both in their work and in their family life.

Surely this is familiar to you, right?

It turns out that the multinational Oracle, an American technology company for those who do not know it, has done a study by asking 12,000 of its employees, aged between 22 and 74 years, in more than 10 countries if the pandemic has Increased his stress, anxiety and fatigue level. 70% answered yes, more than ever. And 85% of them that those mental problems had affected them to their family life. They also reported that they felt a little more resilient. So far nothing new.

However, and here comes the curiousity of the study, they demanded more technology to help with their mental problems. Collaborative technology for teleworking is very good: 75% say that that has helped them in their work but not with their emotional health. Surprisingly, 82% would be willing to talk about your mental problems with a robot before than a human specialist. And you? Do you think the same?

The reasons are less surprising than the data itself. Most think that talking with a robot gives them tranquility because the robot is free of prejudice and will give them a more impartial exit. They also believe that it will be faster to get the answers they need.

Another result is that 68% would talk before with a robot that with your boss about your problems of anxiety or stress.

We do not know to what extent these beliefs can be real or may be expectations higher than what technology can offer today, basically because robots are not being used in that context. It is something really new.

The study is representative by the number of respondents and demographic diversity. Mental health problems are a reality that can not be ignored. Employees of companies demand their companies that take care of this matter. And companies should deal with the impact that this causes on the productivity of its workers. Some of them have already taken note and have started.

If it is important at work level, should not it be equally important at a family and educational level?

Reality is that the pandemic has shown us that most people don’t have enough tools to fight against adversities that affect to our mental health. Nobody never taught us to develop skills for life. Nor is it being taught to the new generations. And they suffer it as the adults. Perhaps more because the work pressure with which they are going to have to coexist will be greater due to technological progress.

In life, the care of the body prevails over that of the mind. At 5 years old, we already know how to tie up the shoes, how to put a band aid if we make us a wound or how to maintain good dental hygiene. But what do we know about emotional hygiene? What do we teach the children about it? Nothing.

Why do we spend more time improving physical health than mental health?

Daily we have some small or great psychological injury such as failure, loneliness or rejection. We do not give it importance. Well, we usually said that it’s just only in your head, think about something else and it will pass. But if you break a leg you do not say: Oh, it’s just only your leg, go for a walk and it’ll be pass.

The other day, the pharmacist, innocently, told a customer that she did not know that she was pregnant. The blushing customer said that she was not pregnant. Enough to hurt her self-esteem. He had just called fat her. And in public. She must have thought: I want to die! She bought what she needed and was probably thinking that she was much fatter. She surely kept going over it in her mind more time than she should. It is a real case. I am sure that you has seen or suffered one similar.

We usually think in negative when we face at this type of setbacks. It is a generalized habit with rare exceptions. In general, we do not have a positive attitude towards injuries that affect failure, self-esteem or trust. We do not have it because we do not know and we have never worried about learning it.

It is not important. You don’t learn it at the school or at the university. We do not even consider psychologists as true doctors. We are only going when there is no choice. Definetly, we do not do that with a caries and the dentist.

Changing our answers to these mental aggressions makes us strengthen our emotional resistance and improves the quality of life. It is not so difficult. But we must begin to change our attitude and priority to face us this kind of problems. We are not aware of the damage we can be avoiding our children (and us) in the future.

And being so important, why do not we teach our children to have mental or emotional hygiene?

The easy answer is because we do not know. And the difficult one is because we do not give him the importance he has until he becomes a problem for others. When someone calls your son rare, when they say that it is not social, when he doesn’t follow the class, when he is violent, when he suffers from the violence of others, when he is not integrated, when he does not get good grades, … many of these situations have the origin in the emotional hygiene. And what have we done until that moment? Nothing, because we did not know we had to do something.

It is not enough to love him to prevent the caries. You have to teach him to have oral hygiene and dedicate time every day so that he learns to brush his teeth after meals until he acquires the habit and develop that responsibility for himself. But that, we do not do it with emotional hygiene, and we should do it because he will need it every day of his life. His quality of life will thank you.

And the robots, what do they paint in all this? They are useful?

They paint what humans want them to paint. Oracle’s studio says that we feel more comfortable talking to a robot because he has no prejudice. And what someone thinks of me is something that affects us much more than we are willing to admit. We do not like that they reject us or point out. 

And to children either. And to teenagers, less. Ask someone who has uploaded a video to Tik Tok if he is not anxious to increase the number of likes and followers.

Robots do not replace people, but they are good when it comes to overcoming certain barriers on emotional hygiene issues. We know it by own experience. In one of the schools that our robots use one of the children was supposely being harassed. For several months the school’s therapist tried to earn himself the confidence of the child to tell him the problem without success. In just one session with our robot, the child described him with all details his problem. Our robot unlocked a situation that was becoming critical and helped the therapist to make better his work identifying the cause of the problem and giving a quicker solution.

It is not that the robots solve our problems. It is that robots can help us to talk about that problem without ‘shame’ of having to tell another person exposing us at what will think. And that can be more than enough. Asking for a robot more is to ask for something that today is beyond the reach of technology. And that would be to ask a robot to do something that is in the realm of people. And that is not its function.

We do not wait to caries to brush or learn to brush our teeth. Therefore, we do not expect to have emotional health problems to worry us. Let’s help children develop their skills for life. And if with robots we help them, they are welcome. We are not worse people or love less our children for using technology that help them to improve as people, even if that technology have a humanoid form.

100 years ago, people started practicing personal hygiene and life expectancy increased by 50%. In Aisoy we believe that improving emotional hygiene could get similar results improving our quality of life. Can you imagine a world with less loneliness, fewer depressions, greater ability to face failure, higher level of self-esteem and trust? We do it. We believe in a world like that and that is why we create robots that help us achieve it.

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