News & Analysis

How Technology Can Help Mental Health Outreach


Earlier this week, our sister publication had raised the question about the growing concerns over mental health issues in modern India and how much of this could be blamed on the increasing, almost pandemic-level use of social media. That India is amongst the most depressed countries in the world isn’t hidden anymore, the question is can technology help out?

By the looks of things, it looks there is technology available for expanding the outreach for counseling amongst the large populating of people who face such issues. A report published in suggests that evidence points to a growing trend in both telepsychiatry and telemedicine as it reduces barriers to accessibility and the stigma that people feel on mental health.

A telepsychiatry session involves everything from evaluation of the patient, therapy sessions, individual or group therapy, patient education, medication management and review of medical images and similar data, besides direct interaction between a psychiatrist and the client where the two can interact over a platform in a live and interactive fashion.

The advent of video-based chat software augurs well for such interactions though there are those who believe that in terms of experiential success this technology falls behind an actual face-to-face interaction where the counselor is able to monitor the client’s physiological cues that much more closely than then can ever hope to in a long-distance interaction.

Having said so, telepsychiatry is the need of the hour since it provides broader access to mental healthcare without having to face the challenges of missing work or having to make repeated visits that incur higher costs. “While it helps generate an outreach to those keeping silent on their issues, the fact remains that counseling interventions are most effective across the table,” says Prof. Leo Lobo, a practicing psychologist and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) expert based in Bangalore.

Research conducted by hospitals in India suggest that only direct intervention by a medical practitioner helps the client as in most cases they themselves aren’t prepared for the treatment and are merely obeying commands from someone at home or at the workplace. In fact, there is enough data to suggest that enterprises should invest in an emotional wellbeing expert as part of their people development and human resource (HR) management policies.

Where technology comes handy is to provide that first milestone in the journey of a client where she or he accepts the existence of a problem and seeks recourse to remedies. Research by Mental Health Foundation of the UK says behavioral problems such as anxiety, depression and substance abuse are causing a whopping 40 million patient years of disability in the 20-29 years age group.

Given this statistic, telepsychiatry can go a long way in bringing people to the table, even if it happens to be a remote one. Today there are enough and more software solutions that can be used to create awareness and early stage interventions, especially at the enterprise levels. Most of these platforms are HIPAA complaint and offer most of the services online and via smartphones.

Some of the tools listed by include: SimplePractice, ContinousCare, TheraNest, DrChrono, OnCall Health Platform, Mend and among others. In India, there are others like Your Dost and eYogi that offer online services though there is no clear pattern to suggest that digital is actually working here.

In the ultimate analysis, it is up to the hospitals and other healthcare establishments to promote telepsychiatry as a tool to create outreach for those remaining cocooned in the belief that talking about mental health is taboo and could only mean that one isn’t fit to perform the tasks at hand, be that at the workplace or at home.

In many ways, telepsychiatry is removing the stigma that used to be associated with mental health treatment, which is an excellent thing for patients as well as healthcare providers.

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