How a first-of-its-kind chatbot is helping people struggling with body image

"We were seeing young people prefer this chatbot medium. Young people tended to help seek through typing rather than calling.”

Dr Gemma Sharp Profile

Dr Gemma Sharp,
Head of Body Image Research and Clinical Psychologist, Monash University

Eating disorders are a serious problem

As many as 1 million Australians live with an eating disorder, yet fewer than one quarter of those receive the help they need.

Young people in particular are struggling with body image issues, with social media use exacerbating the problem. Approximately 4% of the population in Australia is living with an eating disorder in any given year, or 9% in a lifetime. Alongside alcohol and substance abuse, they have one of the highest mortality rates of any mental health diagnosis.

In partnership with Butterfly Foundation, and psychologists and researchers at Monash University and Swinburne University, we developed a chatbot to address a problem that sees too many people suffering alone.

Kit chatbot

Conversational AI provides inventive solutions

Meet KIT, the world’s first body image chatbot, designed to educate and provide information in a safe setting.

Designed as a circuit breaker, KIT doesn’t replace a health care practitioner, but starts people on their journey to seeking help in a private, non-threatening way.

KIT is accessible 24/7 and helps combat harmful information and provides positive reinforcement to users.

Clicking on “chat with KIT” you are directed to initial options: “are you 13+ and looking for help for yourself” or “are you looking for help for another person?”

From there, KIT helps users drill down into various topics, including “learn the facts”, “coping skills”, and “support during COVID”. “Get urgent help now” directs users to emergency helplines such as 000 and Lifeline.

You are then directed to additional content. For example, if you’ve selected “coping skills”, you are offered choices such as “enjoy social media”, “managing emotions” or “myth busting”. 

Clicking on “positive self talk”, users are given some helpful mantras.

KIT also offers prompts to speak to a real person for certain types of problems, or directs them to the Butterfly National Helpline for more help, available between 8am and midnight AEST/AEDT.

“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. 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.”

Deploying chatbots can make a difference

Don’t just take our word for it. 

A qualitative study of KIT found that both young people and parents/carers found it to be a positive intervention for people with lived experience of eating disorders.

Focus group participants liked KIT’s tone and brevity, and the ease of navigation by using buttons when they might not have known exactly what they wanted to ask.

KIT employs continual analysis, meaning it will continue to learn from the way people interact with the bot and develop improved responses.

We’re also continuing to partner with Butterfly Foundation to design resources to help even more people in even more ways.

If you’re interested in finding a creative solution for a big problem, reach out to us today

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