With over 30 per cent of Australia’s young people extremely concerned about their body image, a chatbot called KIT has been designed to educate and provide information for those seeking help.
Body image issues are now considered an epidemic of their own. According to the Butterfly Foundation and Monash University, as many as 1 million Australians live with an eating disorder.
However, fewer than one in four people receive the treatment or support they need.
KIT, powered by conversational intelligence platform Iris, has been designed to provide users with general information on body image issues and eating disorders as well as teaching coping mechanisms to help make the social media experience a more positive one.
The chatbot was developed by a team of mental health researchers, clinicians and IT experts at Monash University and Swinburne University of Technology, in partnership with conversational AI specialists and Iris developers Proxima.
Housed on the Butterfly Foundation’s website and fully integrated with Facebook Messenger, KIT provides ‘in the moment’ support, including a range of information and resources and evidence-based strategies.
These include cognitive behavioural therapy skills and mindfulness.
Project lead Dr Gemma Sharp, a clinical psychologist who leads the Body Image Research Group at the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre (MAPrc), said it can be challenging for people to take the first step to seek support for body image and eating issues.
“KIT has been designed to help with that transition to seeking in-person support. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming but seeking help shouldn’t be,” she said in a statement.
Butterfly National Helpline manager Juliette Thomson said it has seen a huge increase in demand for help since COVID-19.
“KIT will help to provide answers for people who are merely seeking information, and/or who are not yet ready to engage with a counsellor. They simply select from a series of buttons on different topics to access information and resources,” Thomson said.
“As KIT develops, we will be able to learn more from the way people engage with the bot and refine the options as we go.”
Proxima chief executive Sebastian Pedavoli said demand for chatbots from mental health organisations has been on the rise.
“Iris serves as an important first step for people to access information in an easily accessible way and encourage further help-seeking,” he said.
“Although they are not intended to replace personal connection, they do provide a safe, accessible gateway for support.”
KIT is available all-hours, is anonymous and confidential, and has specific advice on coping with COVID-19-related stressors. For people wanting further support, KIT can connect them with Butterfly’s National Helpline, ED HOPE.
“While KIT is here to provide support and answer your questions, KIT does not take the place of a real human. Our professionally trained and non-judgemental Helpline counsellors are here for you and available 8am to midnight (AEST/AEDT) seven days a week,” Thomson said.
KIT will be continually evaluated as part of research at Monash and will be updated to ensure it is best supporting users. KIT is now live at: https://butterfly.org.au/
Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact:
- Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or email@example.com
- Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
- For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14.