Mental Health In the digital world

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We are all deserving members of the digital world. Every day, we make extensive use of digital technology, from ordering food and books to purchasing medicines and services. All major industries are also attempting to adapt to the digital world in order to deliver their products or services. The medical community is no exception. They are also attempting to adapt to the digital world. In recent years, mental health as a component of medical services has provided a variety of services to its clients through the use of digital technology. During the pandemic, online counselling grew in popularity and provided much-needed relief to those in need of affordable and accessible mental health care.

According to the World Health Organization, India has the greatest burden of mental and behavioral disorders. Every sixth Indian needs mental health help and yet the treatment gap ranges between 70% and 92% for different mental health disorders1.WHO states that in India, (per 100,000 populations) there are psychiatrists (0.3), nurses (0.12), psychologists (0.07) and social workers (0.07), while the desirable number is anything above 3 psychiatrists and psychologists per 100,000 population2.This gap is significantly skewed in rural India.

Digital technology brings in a lot of promise or ray of hope at this juncture in history of mental health practice. Technology has bridged the urban rural divide through tele-mental health services.

Online services: Many institutions, NGOs and,the Government departments offer online counseling services for those who suffer from mental disorders like anxiety, anger issues, phobias, relationship issues, suicidal ideation etc. Online counseling sessions using video/phones are. The biggest advantage we   see in this is people in the remote rural area can access the best services without needing to travel using their mobiles or phone . Most mental health organisations offer crisis intervention services free of cost which helps poor people with severe anxiety, and suicidal ideation to seek immediate support from these services. School children before exams get benefitted by talking to counselors over the phone to get relief from exam anxieties. As most of these services in crisis intervention helplines are free, easilyapproachable  and many work 24/7 this has become a  boon to many. The other benefits apart from treatment and counseling is imparting psychoeducation. Anonymity and lack of temporal space, enables and empowers clients to share their personal details without being self-conscious. In thenear future, we may see more and more doctorsusing this technology and treating patients through videos and counselors conducting regular sessions and therapies for their clients using videos.

Diagnosis: With online facilities, diagnosis and assessments of tests have become easy. Administering tests, scoring, analyzing and, generating reports have become very fast and easy as most of it is done by computers connected to net.

Synchronous mode of counseling:WhatsAppapplication is one of the most widely used modes of communication today. Students and professionals use this in their day- to- day transactions. Many clients having mental healthissues andstruggle to communicate using a phone but are comfortable communicating in chat mode. It serves as a good substitute for the phone

Online procurement of medicines: Now medicines can be ordered online and get it delivered at customers’ doorstep. The efficient courier services and reliable network of these services penetrate rural areas where access to mental health medicines is extremely difficult. Rural people need not travel long distance to procure psychiatric medicines.

Online therapy and Psychoeducation: Mental health treatment requires use of various psychological therapies and with the advancement of technology and bandwidth in internet services working with clients using various therapeutic models has become possible. Mental health issues are still a stigma and only way to remove this is through psychoeducation. Technology has also enabled this through online seminars on psychoeducation

Internships and Skill based learning- Online platforms have enabled educational opportunities to budding mental health counselors. Online platform gives students of mental health disciplines, the opportunity to observe and counsel clients across diverse cultures within India. This in fact was a boon in the pandemic and helped students make up for hours of institutional observation visits.

Digital technology has the potential to reduce the treatment gap in the mental health services.

1. (source https://jansahas.org/mental-health).

2. (Source:https://swachhindia.ndtv.com/world-mental-health-day-2020-in-numbers-the burden -of-mental-disorders-in-india-51627)

(This article is provided by A. Subramanian – Counselor at Vandrevala Foundation )



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