Being a mental health advocate, I was thrilled with the announcement of “Mental Health and R&D been given a top most priority in the budget 2022. Pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health, which is quite obvious when you look at these two prominent facts, one in four people are suffering from depression, while one in five are struggling with anxiety. And as pandemic continues , we might see things getting worse. Many of us are facing challenges that can be stressful, overwhelming and cause strong emotions. Public health measures that includes social distancing, lockdown, economic insecurity, school and business closure can make us feel isolated and lonely and can lead to severe depression and anxiety. And the worst part, is people are not even aware that they are suffering with some kind of mental health issues as they are unable to think beyond Covid 19.
In such a scenario government coming up with proposals like establishing National Tele Mental Health programme in India is considered as a boon.
What Is National Tele Mental Health programme ?
The National Tele Mental Health programme is launched to improve access to quality mental health counselling and care services which will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework, and universal access to health facilities. Government has announced the creation of 23 tele-mental health facilities, with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, serving as the nodal center. Nimhans’ role is to conceptualize the programme, develop the training content, train the counsellors of centers of excellence and monitor the programme. The toll free number finds a mention in the health ministry’s website, the CoWIN portal and the counselling is available in 13 languages. More than 650 doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counsellors and psychiatric nurses working in government hospitals across India are involved in the helpline.
Benefits of Tele Mental Health Programme
- To provide and support health care services of which mental care is a major domain to distant places through telemedicine which is a most popular information and communication system.
- Tele medicine is a cost effective solution to health care as patients need not to travel and can be given treatment at their comfort zone.
- Online video conferencing via personal computers or mobile phones has enhanced the management or follow-up of many mental patients.
- People are more comfortable and less hesitant to share their problems online than meeting in person.
- As people share their issues more comfortably accuracy rate in evaluation has been increased.
- As new technologies can be used for diverse clients from different socio-cultural backgrounds and for different mental disorders, such systems becomes more adaptable and stable to meet varying clinical circumstances.
- Tele mental health care is available for both individuals and groups. Therefore, it has better cost, efficacy, usefulness and profits on the investment.
Available Technologies for Tele Mental Health care
- Videoconference, Telephone & Messaging Systems
- Web-based Interventions
- Mobile Phone Technology
- Networking via Social Media & Group Discussions
- Simulated People and Places ( use of three-dimensional, animated video presentations for mental health care purposes)
- Internet Games
Challenges faced by Tele mental health care
- Patients and clinicians should possess necessary skills to the technologies.
- Establishing equipment and periodic upgradation might be quite challenging and require good amount of investment.
- Subscribing to Internet Services would become absolute necessary.
- Regular evaluation of the services and its efficacy will become unavoidable.
- Unstable signals or access to Internet, that may make tele mental health services unpopular.
- Patient’s and clinician’s reluctance due to technophobia could become a hinderance.
- Unclear quality control and standards could lead to confusion.
- Ethical and regulatory concerns exist about the use of web-based services, since the patients’ privacy might be at risk.
Despite of all these concerns tele medicine can be a boon for developing as well as for under developed countries due to improved access, reduced costs, flexibility under most circumstances, and interactive sessions between clients and clinicians . Tele mental health care is particularly warranted for under-developed communities and nations where these services are not available locally.
My Personal Opinion
As we know in India and worldwide we face immense shortage of mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists and psychologists. Launching health care services and counselling centers will become reality and will start giving results only if we have people who are trained to handle such vast population. There is something called as Task Shifting. Now the idea of task shifting in global health is , when we see a shortage of specialized health care professionals, we can train whoever is available in the community to provide a range of health care interventions. As you know in our country mid wives are trained in a complex task like delivering babies than why can’t we train ordinary people for mental health interventions.
You can read more on Need For Mental Health Awareness and Inclusiveness from my previous post here.
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