By Shumita Kakkar, Founder, United We Care
Mental health issues are considered a taboo in India. Given the fact that the country was among the first few to put in place a structured National Mental Health Programme in the early 1980s, this is quite astonishing to believe.As per the data gathered by NIMHANS a few years back, India had about 100 million people dealing with different mental health issues. The WHO reports that mental health problems cause a burden equivalent to 2443 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) per 100,000 people, and suicide rate of 21.1 per 100,000. The organization believes that the country will incur a loss of around $1.03 trillion between 2012-2030.
The above stats are based only on the recorded cases, and there is likely to be a much larger population that doesn’t discuss the mental health situation despite sustained campaigning and awareness. At the same time, it is heartening to see how social media platforms and public forums have been constantly raising the awareness and acceptance levels of such challenges among the Indian masses.
Mental health issues affect a person’s physical output, thinking abilities, behaviour as well as emotional stability. All in all, if left unchecked, persistent mental health issues such as depression can cause inability to perform normal daily life tasks. Since the battle against mental health problems is an everyday challenge; one also needs to have a sustained and always accessible support mechanism to deal with such issues. This is where technology has emerged as a key enabler of access and provides mental health professionals a window to constantly connect with those who suffer. Having said that, it becomes important to see how digital technology has the potential to transform mental healthcare landscape in India.
We are all well versed with how smartphone apps can be helpful in assisting us with various health issues. In COVID-19 times, people have been able to remotely share their laboratory test results and vital parameters with doctors and receive advice without having to step out. Similar platforms are also available for mental healthcare. These app-based platforms offer expert counselling and free flow of communication from within the safety and privacy of the help seeker’s home. Some of the apps also offer anonymous consultations where the person can receive advise without disclosing their identity or location. These apps provide people the desired counselling and support in real-time and in a safe manner.
Identifying the mental state
People may have different mental health challenges.The smartphone app-based access allows users to get treatment or advice based on how they are feeling at that particular time, instead of physical sessions with a clinical therapist on a fixed monthly schedule. Digital technology has brought about various wearables which can provide real-time and accurate data to caregivers. This gives the psychologist or the counsellor a better idea of the patient’s condition than a narration that takes place 15-20 days later. For instance, there are tools which assess a patient’s sleep duration and quality and help caregivers understand whether they are relaxed and following a healthy sleep schedule or stressed and uneasy.
Through digital mental healthcare tech, professionals can understand the triggers of a patient’s condition. Data provided by the app and wearables alongside visual observation can help them understand the patient’s condition and respond to it better.
The process of consultation, observing, counselling and understanding the patient’s condition requires analysis of a lot of factors. This is where the advanced digital support platforms leverage AI automation. The patient also needs to understand the details and how the future is expected to pan out. All these things are better accomplished by integrating AI tools such as chatbots into the smartphone apps. These chatbots prove to be smart counsellors and can conduct initial data gathering and basic sessions. The integration of the right tools is consistently going to make mental healthcare delivery more personalized and potent.
Importance of Feedback
AR technology can help the user get real-time feedback and allow caregivers to provide the right treatment. Any changes in the condition can be analysed by the AR tools and be communicated to caregivers who can alter the medication accordingly.
Digital mental health platforms not only have the potential to improve the quality of care, but are also going to play a transformational role in improving access and affordability across India. The country has a severe shortage of professional psychologists and even the available resources are heavily concentrated in the major cities. Under such a scenario, easy smartphone based digital apps are going to drive away the taboos and help people access the required mental health support in a safe, convenient and on-demand basis.