It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
Mixed in with its devastating negative effects, the COVID pandemic had at least one positive effect: The world felt united as never before. If this feeling of unity continues, huge challenges can be met together. One that touches me personally is the drive to democratize well-being—the gap between haves and have nots is physical, mental, and spiritual, not just economic.
A bit step in the direction of democratized well-being was taken by a unique program that uses AI (Artificial Intelligence) to rescue people at high risk for suicide. We’ve become huge, enthusiastic supporters of Piwi, a chatbot that anyone in crisis can have a conversation with (https://www.x2ai.com/piwi). Here’s how this breakthrough intervention works.
It has been shown repeatedly that when someone is having suicidal thoughts, the best way to rescue them is through personal contact, which usually is conducted with another person at the end of the line. But it is also essential to have a follow-up contact to make sure that the intervention has a lasting effect. Piwi accomplishes both goals with very impressive results at a uniquely low cost.
It might seem at first glance that talking to an AI chatbot is an improbable way to help someone in mental crisis. But there are countering factors. Two-thirds of those who commit suicide struggle with depression, and because of the stigma associated with mental disorders, even in the developed West, there is a reluctance to talk about their condition, even with close friends and family. Added to this is a distrust of therapy, the lack of money to pay for a therapist, and the scarcity of professional therapists in many parts of the globe.
Piwi helps overcome this unwillingness to come forward, simply by virtue of being an AI device. Conversations with Piwi are subject to preprogrammed filters that indicate if the person calling in is at highest risk. Within ten seconds the call is transferred to a live counselor who takes over the conversation via chat, or gives the person in need a phone call. During this call the counselor makes sure the suicidal crisis is averted. Follow-up touch points ensure the person who was in crisis will get connected to the right resources to improve their situation
The introduction of Piwi offers enormous hope for worldwide outreach. An assessment of the results so far is very impressive—that’s why we feel personally so passionate about this advance. Here are some highlights from the latest study since Piwi was launched in August 2020.
The human benefit of Piwi comes first and foremost, but we have to talk about the cost benefits as well. Achieving the same scale and level of support for these 89,000 people with traditional therapy and using telemedicine is estimated at $96,645,630.
To offer another striking comparison, the AMF Foundation and Givewell found that the most cost-effective way to save a life is $3,337 by installing anti-mosquito nets. The cost of 1,500 minutes of support through Piwi is only $100. This means that a donation to Piwi of only $60 is sufficient to save a life by de-escalating a suicidal crisis situation.
There are more details that can be cited to support the claim that Piwi is just as effective as conventional therapy in a crisis situation and in reducing symptoms of depression at a rate that psychotherapy considers a success (50% reduction or more). But the critical shift is one of attitudes and beliefs.
Most people would consider it extremely worthy to contribute to mosquito netting in Africa and COVID vaccines to disadvantaged people around the world. But mental health brings up mental health prejudices and skepticism. The mind is invisible, mysterious, unpredictable, and for many people, filled with threat. Yet anyone who has had any contact with chronic depression in their family, or who has known someone who died by suicide, understands the reality.
Immediate intervention remains the best way to de-escalate someone suffering from suicidal thoughts. Depression is the threshold condition that leads to suicides two-thirds of the time, and chronic depression remains a huge challenge to treat. Yet for all the advantages we’ve mentioned, Piwi marks a huge step in the right direction. It heralds a future where mental disorders are not stigmatized and where anyone in any part of the world can reach out for the help that saves lives.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
POONACHA MACHAIAH is a global leader among a new breed of social entrepreneurs, applying his corporate expertise from 25 years as a business executive in multiple Fortune 100 companies and entrepreneurial initiatives to addressing societal and wellbeing challenges. Poonacha is the CEO of The Chopra Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to improving health and well-being, cultivating spiritual knowledge, expanding consciousness, and promoting world peace. He is the co-founder of the Never Alone Movement for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health and was the co-founder of JIYO wellbeing platform along with Deepak Chopra, M.D. Poonacha has launched the Warrior Monk brand targeted at creating a positive societal shift through the compassionate transformation of humankind (www.thewarriormonk.com). Poonacha is the founder of Wellbeing Tech, a leading technology innovation company that has deployed transformative wellbeing solutions such as the hyper-local neighborhood app i.e. GABL (www.gabl.global) and Remote Assistance Management platform for providing assisted reality with Glass Enterprise edition (www.wellbeingtech.com/ramp) and C.I.R.C.A (circa.world) for anxiety and stress management. He holds an MBA from the College of William and Mary, and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Engineering from the B.M.S. College of Engineering.
GABRIELLA WRIGHT is a mother, professional actress, activist and motivational speaker with a long-standing humanitarian engagement. A co-founder of the Never Alone Movement for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health. She is a teacher of Primordial Sound Meditation for Chopra Global and the Chopra Foundation. Wright has lent her voice to UN Women and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. Among many other societal contributions, she is a Global Goodwill Ambassador to SkyPower and the Honorary President of a grassroots charity in Myanmar. She co-hosts the Never Alone Summit along with Cassandra Vieten and Poonacha Machaiah.
MICHIEL RAUWS Founder and CEO of X2 AI for Mental Health Chat Support. As a former patient and longtime peer-support counselor, Michiel was compelled to start X2 AI, a technology company providing mental health support through conversations with an AI digital coach chatbot. To date, X2’s chatbot has provided access for 29 million people and has de-escalated over 8,000 suicides. Michiel also leads The X2 Foundation, a non-profit aiding underserved communities by providing free access to X2’s chatbot technology. Michiel and his team at X2 believe that mental health care should be equitable and available to everyone, regardless of geographic location or income level. Nonprofits interested in partnering can find more information here: https://www.x2ai.com/impact.
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