01/5E-mental health comes to the rescue

Searching for silver linings amidst the gloom? Look at what this crisis has done to mental health awareness. No mental health campaign has ever had as much impact as the one sparked by the COVID-19 crisis. It isn’t one person’s grief and trauma alone, everyone is in it together and hence the empathy. Government leaders talk about mental health at their news briefings and new apps and helplines are launched every other day to address issues like job loss, anxiety, loneliness amongst teenagers and estranged marriages. There are peer chat support groups for seniors, counselling for doctors and frontline warriors and webinars on women’s health in lockdown. That’s not all, there are even clinically-validated mental health video games!

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02/5E-mental health is accessible to all

So far reserved for experts and technophiles, e-mental health is being made accessible to all now. “COVID-19 has disrupted the way we used to live. With lockdowns in place and lack of public transport systems in remote areas, visiting a medical facility has become a difficult task for the masses; the only feasible solution is to opt for e-consultation,” says Rithik Pachori, co-founder of Elixir, an online mental health platform that conducts online audio, video and chat counselling sessions.

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03/5​An enabler, not a barrier

Evidence says that enabling patients to access psychological treatment through digital self-referrals actually increases accessibility and dramatically reduces waiting times. No one should have to wait for mental healthcare provision – and this new approach is empowering patients to call on that help when they need it. “Building hope right now is the biggest challenge,” says Shipra Dawar, founder ePsyclinic, a free online platform for mental health funded by grants and support from state governments. They have done more than 60,000 free of cost sessions in the last two months for marginalised, rural and semi urban population. “Over 2.9 million people have accessed our webinars and self help tools. This has been possible only because we were and are digital and tele,” adds Dawar.

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04/5​Uprooting the stigma

Digital mental health has several benefits like ready availability of a therapist, some tools for self-assessment including automated AI-enabled chatbots and anonymity, thereby reducing stigma surrounding the topic. Many patients actually find it easier to open up about their problems when their care is not face-to-face. In fact, they might open-up earlier and wrap up in fewer sessions. Agrees Dr Prerna Kohli, a Clinical Psychologist, “E-Health allows patients and doctors to meet across geographies and timezones minus the inhibitions. Some patients have the fear that their conversations may be recorded, so doctors have to build trust and create a virtual safe space for the patient to open up completely.” Dr Kohli works extensively with NRI patients from across the globe as their cultural needs are not adequately understood or addressed by their local psychologists. “With our experience, the electronic approach hasn’t hampered the quality of psychotherapy at all, instead the clients have found this approach to be more effective since they can now take their sessions from a familiar environment i.e. their respective homes,” adds Pachori.

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05/5The bottom line

Very few e-mental health services meet the following four quality criteria: scientific validation, user experience, data privacy and security, and economic viability of the service. The important thing is that online treatment is done well and follows approved protocols. This means using accurate patient outcome measures, therapists with the right training and privacy standards being maintained.

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