America’s largest eating disorder charity, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), will shut down its eating disorder support line on June 1st and replace it with an automated chatbot.
According to Abby Harper, one of six workers on the helpline, the decision to replace them and the 200 or so volunteers who take phone calls and chat is revenge after the workers organized a union.
– NEDA claims that this is a long overdue change and that AI can better help those with eating disorders. But don’t be fooled, it’s not about a chatbot. In one of them you write that this is about syndicate crime blog posts.
Employees have been told the helpline will close four days after they endorse their decision to unionize. The newly formed Helplines Associates consortium says it condemns NEDA’s decision to shut down the helpline, which has been around since 1999.
A chatbot is not a substitute for human empathy and we believe this decision will cause irreparable harm to those with eating disorders, they told Vice’s Technology magazine. Motherboard.
Long wait times for help
According to NEDA, nearly 70,000 individuals and families received assistance through the helpline last year. In addition, Abby Harper of Associates United says it has seen a 107% increase in the number of people seeking help since the Covid pandemic hit in 2020.
The high workload means that those who apply to the helpline may have to wait several days, sometimes up to a week, before being contacted. According to NEDA, long wait times and the responsibility of volunteers are behind the helpline’s closure.
The chatbot that will in the future act as a support for those who apply to the organization is called Tessa and was created by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine. They were commissioned to create a chatbot by NEDA several years ago.
— Elaine Fitzsimmons-Craft, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington, who led the work developing the program, says. NPR.
According to NEDA, more than half of the 700 women who tried the tool from 2021 to 2023 said it was 100 percent helpful. Smaller studies by the chatbot team showed that those who interacted with Tessa fared better than those who had to wait for a call.
It cannot replace one’s own experience of an eating disorder
According to members of Helplines Associates who work on NEDA’s helpline, a chatbot cannot replace the human contact that help-seekers now enjoy when talking to volunteers.
Abby Harper herself suffered from an eating disorder, and says the same goes for many of the other people who get the calls.
“When you know what it’s been like for you and you know how it feels, you can make a real connection with others,” she tells NPR
There is something very special about being able to share this kind of lived experience with another person.
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