How Technology is Transforming Mental Health Treatment Delivery in South Asia
In low- and middle-income countries that are constantly dealing with severe health crises such as tuberculosis, malaria and Ebola outbreaks, mental health becomes a problem grossly overlooked. Policy makers tend to neglect it and society in general tends to shun it. However, mental health is no less serious a concern than other medical conditions, considering one in every four people in the world are likely to suffer a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives, according to WHO.
One in four – that is a huge number. Resources for helping all these people are however, far less than optimal. Even in the most developed countries like the US and UK that have an increased awareness of mental health concerns, penetration of treatment is quite low. Just about 33.9 psychologists are licensed per 100,000 people in the US. This figure plummets down further in low-and-middle-income countries (LMIC), such as regions in South Asia. India has one licensed therapist for every 200,000 to 300,000 people. Pakistan has only 400 for nearly 200 million people and the numbers only get more dismal for Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other South Asian countries. Quite evidently, getting proper treatments such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and regular counseling sessions become very difficult for the larger population in these regions.
Amid all these problems, technology is one thing that keeps hope alive. Internet and mobile connectivity has grown rapidly in South Asia. India, for instance, has nearly 340 million internet users and other South Asian countries, too, have a significant percentage of their population hooked to the internet. Internet can therefore become one of the most powerful ways of making quality mental health care accessible to large parts of the population.
Various organizations, government and non-government alike, have made appreciable efforts in providing internet based care and support for problems like depression, anxiety and suicidal feelings. There is a myriad of mobile applications or apps that help, as well as other resources like online clinics, communities and portals that let patients talk to counselors and peers online. These digital solutions are affordable, sometimes free, and are easily accessible. Many experts have observed that online counseling can be effective. Let us take a look at some mental health support channels available online.
ePsyclinic in India
As a developing economy with a huge population and limited resources, India happens to have a high percentage of its population affected by mental health disorders, and unfortunately, very meager funding for mental health. ePsyclinic, an online mental health counseling service, provides anyone with internet connectivity, access to online therapy. A large number of licensed psychologists and psychiatrists work with ePsyclinic and they are specially trained to provide online therapy. Users can view profiles of different therapists, their specialty, experience and prices, and choose to consult with the therapist of their choice. Although not free, most of these services are affordable and easily accessible. They also offer a number of free resources like articles and blogs. ePsyclinic also has a freely downloadable iWill App that allows patients to chat with their counselors.
HealthEminds in India
Similar to ePsyclinic, HealthEminds too offers the services of trained and licensed counselors to people online. The platform is especially helpful as it offers counseling in a number of regional Indian languages. The services are fairly affordable and they make it a point to redirect patients in acute distress to the nearest hospital immediately.
Taskeen.org in Pakistan
Pakistan too has very few licensed psychologists and a large number of mental health patients. The social stigma associated with mental illness is another reason so few people ever get any treatment for mental health problems. Taskeen.org is an online mental health resource center that aims to help both patients and caregivers. It is a peer-support platform that shares stories and provides advice and community support. Professional psychologists and therapists reply to queries from time to time.
Senacti in Bangladesh
Senacti provides online and face-to-face counseling sessions to people suffering from any kind of mental health problem. It also assesses problems to help pair patients to a personal health coach, schedule appointments and helps monitor social, physical and sleep activities to detect signs of problem and suggest help options.
Sumithrayo in Sri Lanka
Hearing of someone committing suicide is one of the most painful news to receive. Sumithrayo wants to reach out to as many people as possible and help them deal with suicidal feelings through a number of mediums such as face-to-face counseling, over the phone, letters or email. The people at Sumithrayo provide confidential emotional support for people who are experience any kind of distress, including feelings that may lead to suicide. In addition to befriending and supporting the distressed people, Sumithrayo also conducts awareness programs for schools, universities, institutions and local communities.
International Psychological organization (IPSO) in Afghanistan
As a country torn by 16 years of war, Afghanistan has a huge populace of traumatized people. Problems like post traumatic stress disorder not only abound but also give rise to other problems like domestic abuse, as a lot of such people tend to become more violent. IPSO is a large network of psychological counselors helping the refugees in Afghanistan. In addition to providing counseling, help and support to patients face-to-face, they have an online video psychological counseling portal that helps them reach out to patients who cannot walk-in. The online portal was developed with the support of German Foreign Office and has proved to be an excellent tool in the rehabilitation of PTSD patients.
Providing care and treatment for mental conditions, to the larger population in South Asia is a pressing necessity and technology is the most powerful weapon in this quest. While a lot of work still needs to be done in this regard, the aforementioned ventures are surely headed in the right direction. We hope a lot more online portals and apps are created to help people who need help and need it now.