Mental Health Awareness Month: Online mental health care is essential for India

Sumit Kumar (The writer is a journalist)

The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown have brought a lot of change in the way we live our lives. The work of private and government offices is constantly being shifted online. Work from home culture is also increasing. The important reason for the growth of work from home culture is the continuous development in technology. Technology is also being used in the field of health. In a country like India where most of the people live in rural areas, even here health facilities are being provided through technology. The biggest example of this is the ongoing tele-medicine scheme.

But the question is whether mental health care in India can be shifted online like other functions. Is it possible to use new technologies in the field of mental health? If it is possible then how effective will it prove to be in a country like India, where even today mental health is seen as a taboo.

Use of technology in the field of mental health from 2020

The first use of technology in the field of mental health was done by the government in India in 2020. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) in association with National Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore and Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) issued tele-psychiatry guidelines in view of the deepening crisis on the mental health of the people due to the COVID pandemic. This was the first initiative to guide mental health professionals to implement digital mental health counseling across India. In other words, it was the foundation of the use of technology in the field of mental health in India.

National tele mental health program started

In this episode, a big decision was taken in this time’s budget session. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the National Tele-Mental Health Program. In India, this announcement is historic in itself. In the National Tele-Mental Health Program, it was said by the government to develop NIMHANS as a nodal center and IIT Bangalore as a technical support center. Along with this, a network of 23 tele mental health centers has been proposed in this program. In India, where even today people do not consider it necessary to talk face to face on mental health problems and their solutions.

By the way, bringing awareness among people about online mental health and its counseling is the biggest challenge in the future. Along with the world, India is also shifting to the digital platform, shifting the mental health sector online in India is a challenging task. Where there is a lack of knowledge about how people are taking therapy for mental health, it will be difficult to bring awareness about online therapy.

Is online health care effective?

Online mental health care is also called e-therapy, e-counselling, teletherapy, cyber-counselling and tele-counselling. Online mental health care moves mental health services out of a traditional office into a virtual world. Online mental health care includes video conferencing, phone sessions, online chats, voice messages, email and text sessions. Now the question is whether online health care is effective, with many studies clearly saying that it is effective. Studies in The Lancet also say that online care works in mental health. A meta analysis of 57 studies including more than 4,300 clients that compared personalized therapy for mental health with video conferencing sessions found that both methods were equally helpful for patients.

Tele-consultation will ease the way for affordable and effective mental services

The question is that if the mental health sector in India is shifted online, then what will be the benefits. Certainly this will change the old practices prevailing in the field of mental health at the national level. Will normalize conversations on mental health on a wider scale. Along with this, Stigma will reduce misinformation and misconceptions about mental health and encourage people to seek help to improve mental health. In fact, if the mental health sector in India does shift online, tele-psychiatry and tele-psychotherapy, or tele-counseling, will ease the way for accessible, affordable and effective mental services across the country by accredited specialists in the field. In addition, it will also promote training and online certification in digital mental health courses. This will increase the professionals working in the field of mental health at the grassroots level.

Talking about the benefits of common people, essential services like mental health which are limited to urban areas will be able to reach remote rural areas. People from rural areas will be able to easily take the services of specialists in the field of mental health. They will not have to travel to the city to get mental health care. This will save both their time and money. He will reach these services according to his time.

And it is necessary to bring digital mental health to the masses

There are going to be many challenges in the digital shift of mental health care in India. Digital literacy is still a significant challenge in rural areas. Along with this, internet connectivity is also limited in rural areas. In rural areas, there is a continuous problem of electricity, due to which there are disturbances in the network. There are ethical and legal loopholes regarding mental health care guidelines in India. Delays in face to face assessment can be handled in mental health care but there may be limitations in medical evaluation in the virtual medium. The security of people’s personal information is also an important challenge. Tele mental health care or online mental health care cannot be separated from efforts to increase digital literacy, data security and public access to these services.

Along with the government, mental health professionals, media and policy makers need to act responsibly in taking mental health digitally. Because it can make the same impact among the general public and can bring digital mental health to the general public. Along with this, common people also have to understand mental health as important as physical health.

(Disclaimer: These are the personal views of the author. The author himself is responsible for the correctness / accuracy of any information given in the article. News18Hindi is not responsible for this)

Tags:, mental health

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