May 23, 2023

By Courtney Wise

Hello MindSite News readers! Columbia University psychiatrist and neuroscientist Daniel Kimmel attended a therapy sesson with a ChatGPT – one that he had arranged for a hypothetical patient named Michelle. The chatbot got off to a good start, but it failed spectacularly on a deeper level. Kimmel breaks it down for us here in a powerful essay in this week’s issue.

Also in this edition: How writing, drawing and music can lift your mood. A high school science project that may one day help prevent suicide. And more.

A therapist bot on endless loop

“The other day I sat down to my first therapy session with ChatGPT, the chatbot that reproduces human thought, or at least seems to,” writes psychiatrist Daniel Kimmel of Columbia University in a new essay published on MindSite News.

“Partly I was just curious, in that see-what-everyone-is-talking-about way. And as a psychiatrist, maybe I was wondering if I’d be out of a job soon. But I walked away with a reawakened awe for the human mind and its ability to wonder, imagine, and create.

“For the session, I didn’t ask ChatGPT to be my therapist. Rather, I asked it to be the therapist for a hypothetical patient, let’s call her Michelle. Based on my sessions with many other patients, I typed in the things Michelle might have said to me and compared ChatGPT’s responses to my own.” Find out what Kimmel discovered in his essay “GPT Can Channel the Stock Responses of a Therapist, But It Misses What Makes Us Human.”

“How the Arts Can Benefits Your Mental Health (No Talent Required)”

Psychiatrist Frank Clark didn’t discover “the missing piece of his wellness puzzle” until medical school. Battling depression, he told the New York Times that he’d done much of what we already know works to keep symptoms down or help send the illness into remission, including exercise, therapy, medication, and leaning into his faith. It all helped, but starting to write poems, he found, was the missing piece. “All that chatter that is in my head, everything that I’ve been feeling, I can now just put it on paper and my pen can do the talking,” Clark said.

Clark’s experience further confirms what University of Florida researcher Jill Sonke calls “a really robust body of evidence” about the benefits of creating art or embracing activities that feed your artistic side. Even simply allowing yourself to enjoy art by visiting a museum or listening to live music can help. The impact is akin to giving yourself “a mini mental vacation,” says Susan Albers, clinical psychologist and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.

One of Sonke’s suggestions is as easy as using a coloring book. A recent study found that coloring in a complex geometric design for 20 minutes can help to ease anxiety. The intricacy of the design pushes one to tune out distractions and focus on what is pleasing, Albers said, adding, “It’s a great form of meditation for people who hate meditation.”

In other news…

A high school science project may become a tool that helps prevent suicides. Every week, there’s more written about social media and its negative influence on teen mental health: High school senior Siddhu Pachipala is throwing something new into the mix. For his most recent science project, the Houston student developed SuiSensor, an app prototype that uses artificial intelligence to scan social media texts for signs of suicide risk. “Our writing patterns can reflect what we’re thinking, but it hasn’t really been extended to this extent,” he told NPR

Researchers say the technology at work is “natural language processing,” which has been around since the mid-1990s. SuiSensor, which would allow teens to do a self-assessment of their suicide risk, is not yet downloadable. But while SuiSensor won’t necessarily help teens solve their mental health challenges, it could one day prompt them and others to get help, said Colorado psychologist Nathaan Demers.  “When you walk into CVS, there’s that blood pressure cuff,” Demers said. “And maybe that’s the first time that someone realizes, ‘Oh, I have high blood pressure. I had no idea.’”

Emerging research suggests that religious people tend to seek out their religious leaders for mental health support, rather than therapists, This makes mental health training a useful tool for religious leaders to support their memberships. “We also know that secular mental health providers in general often report a lot of discomfort in thinking about the role of religion and spirituality specifically in a therapeutic context,” explained psychiatrist Ruby Lekwauwa to MedPage Today.

Her hope, she said, is that religious leaders will receive mental health training and help bridge the gap between spiritual and professional mental health support. “It’s not uncommon for patients to say, ‘Well, I don’t really trust the mental health provider,’ for a number of reasons, including privacy,” said Lekwauwa. “So there might be an opportunity to create better partnerships with religious leaders, to say [mental health providers] are safe people.”

Listening to birds may help improve your mental health. It’s not just about being outside in nature, either: The Washington Post reports that even listening to birdsong via headphones or online can help relieve feelings of anxiety and paranoia. In a study published last fall in Scientific Reports, researchers found that people who listened to six minutes of birdsong “hit the same pathways that might be beneficial to mental wellbeing,” even though they weren’t outside.

If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.

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Type of work:

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter and freelance writer. She is the host of COVID Diaries: Stories of Resilience, a 2020 project between WDET and Documenting Detroit which won an Edward R. Murrow...