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Mental Health 2021: Accessibility to Online Therapy

Dr Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), rightly declared in 1954 that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health.” A land where becoming a doctor is considered a matter of great prestige, India is still warming up to the idea of mental health and its importance. Lack of information and trained staff, associated social stigmas and the lack of funding, all attribute to the slow- paced progress of mental health awareness.

While Mental health has been available in India since the 18th century, it has seen unprecedented change in the last 30 years as a result of destigmatisation and the active involvement of both individuals and the government. The National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) was launched in 1982 and is aimed at developing community-based mental healthcare in India. The NMHP aimed at aiding Indians by providing basic mental health services through a multi-pronged strategy. The government introduced the Mental Health Care Act in 2017 which emphasised the provision, accessibility and availability of mental health care to all.

Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus, mental health has taken a front seat. With all the uncertainty and loss, mental health problems saw a sharp rise. Individuals from the field of medicine began to stress upon the importance of mental health. With the world shifting to an online mode, help was provided via digital mediums. More than 60,000 people sought counseling during the lockdown through the teletherapy helpline set up by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS). Practo, an online medical platform, registered a 240% growth in overall psychiatry teleconsultations (comprising 74% men and 26% women).

While there are government programmes and acts in place designed to help individuals from all walks of life and healthcare seems more readily available, the marginalized communities in India have a different story to tell.

Marginalised communities include minorities, differently-abled individuals, the elderly, etc. These groups face challenges of accessibility concerning the simplest of things, and mental healthcare is no exemption. Discrimination is frequently experienced by members of the marganilised community and research has shown that those who face discrimination are at a higher risk for poor mental health. Health care disparities, defined as unfair differences in access to or quality of care according to race and ethnicity, are common in terms of mental healthcare.

Individuals coming from marginalised backgrounds experience educational institutions and workplace environments as systems that perpetuate oppression, power, and privilege. Marginalised groups made up a significant proportion of those sectors worst affected by the pandemic. They lost their jobs and experienced wage cuts. These groups are most often the less educated community with lower economic resources and lower levels of liquid assets. This made them extremely vulnerable and in the face of unemployment, even providing the basics such as food to the family became close to impossible. Some lost their homes due to failure to pay rent or social stigma. Financial crisis swept over this community of individuals. They faced inequities in access to decent work and faced discrimination increasing the burden of the pandemic. These marginalised groups were unable to access government relief packages. The situation progressively worsened with marginalised groups having minimal access to government health benefits.

All these stressors compounded to create deep-rooted mental health consequences for the marginalised. The economic instability led to psychological concerns among them. However, access to mental healthcare was another major obstacle. Due to the lockdown, access was restricted. Quality mental healthcare was not made available to these groups specifically. Various research studies have shown elevated rates of major depression, anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the resultant substance use and abuse among these communities. These numbers saw a rise during the lockdown. The economic constraints, stigma, prejudice, discrimination and lack of access contributed to the pitiful state of marginalised communities.

Many studies have shown that loneliness and isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity, even under normal circumstances. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, millions of people around the world were under house arrest and faced many health problems which had major implications. Quarantine has prevented many people from leaving their homes for any kind of treatment.

However, technology has helped to make it beneficial to everyone with mental health problems. Researchers have found that isolation and loneliness can seriously affect thinking and lifestyle. Therefore, many online therapy apps help people with mental health problems and encourage them to stay in the moment and experience thoughts, feelings and emotions without judgment. It can increase resilience to stress, increase compassion for others, and improve ability to focus.

As the world shut down in 2020, everyone realized that there is no denying that mental health is one of the most neglected areas of healthcare in the world, and Covid-19 has helped accelerate that. More than ever, they turned to technology for help. Fortunately, the digital world is beautiful in its diversity and the internet is full of ideas and innovations, not just unsolicited advice.

The applications and digital therapy market have boosted after the COVID-19 outbreak. Apps are helping people recover from mental health problems. In fact, these apps are doing well in countries that have been hit hard by the coronavirus such as the US, UK, China, India and Japan. These mental health apps have proven to be great solutions in overcoming some of the major mental health problems of our time. These applications provide tools and techniques to better understand your mood and notice changes in behavior and also help more people remain conscious and healthy during quarantine, resulting in more self-awareness, improved mental well-being, and guided meditation.

A recent study found that nearly 40% of U.S. adults reported that the coronavirus outbreak had a negative impact on their mental health, and 12% said they had a major impact on their lifestyle.

Enlisted below are some applications that have actually proven to improve mental and emotional well-being of individuals during such hard times. These mental health applications don’t promise stability but help remind people to practice self help daily. Applications like Headspace, Calm and Mindfulness Coach have proven to reduce stress while applications like Happify, Mindshift CBT and COVID Coach have helped people cope with anxiety and depression.

With time and advancements, there are certain baskets under which mental health can be classified. From suicide prevention to getting rid of addictions, from self help for anxiety management to bipolar disorder, from depression to recovering record, from schizophernia to meditation applications, there is a place for everyone.

Despite all the hardships people had to undergo during the coronavirus pandemic, it was a delight to see that mental health was also prioritized. As it continues to impact mental health and their scalability and accessibility, the cost effective mental health apps act as a potentially valuable tool to combat problems and with the rapid advancements, a major growth is expected to be seen in this sector.

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