Every aspect of our life and work got affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Although things have resumed, there are still aspects that are not the same. Educational institutions are still shut in most parts of the country especially for young children. People across all age groups have been facing mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and stress.This prevalence of mental health problems is further amplified in a country like India as there are several additional stress factors for people. Apart from financial insecurities, and other issues, there is the additional challenge of taking care of the entire family and the pressure of dealing with the society. What further compounds the scenario is the lack of adequate mental healthcare support in the country. The national average for psychiatrists in India is 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.Maintaining this ratio requires addition of new professionals in the domain but the latter is also pipe dream for India in the current scenario.1
Causes of mental health illnesses
The reason behind such abysmal numbers is probably the fact that mental health has not even been formally integrated into the national healthcare policies in the country yet. The positive side, however, is that the gap is now being acknowledged.While it will take several years or even decades for India to have adequate number of mental health professionals, we can plug the gap very quickly using the advanced digital platforms. As witnessed during the pandemic, virtual mental healthcare has seen a sharp rise in demand across various age groups and genders across India. The country has a high prevalence of mental health ailments, depression, suicidal tendencies, substance abuse and alcoholism which has only grown during the pandemic.
Future is Digital Mental Healthcare
For all the people suffering from such issues, digital mental healthcare comes as a life transforming opportunity. There are some highly effective and rapidly growing online platforms which offer virtual mental healthcare consultations and support. They employ qualified mental health professionals to address the concerns of the users and are effectively able to overcome the paucity of resources by working as force multipliers. For instance, most of the mental health professionals in India are concentrated in Tier I and II cities which leave Tier III and IV cities as well as the smaller cities and rural heartland of the country out of coverage. Since the digital platforms are accessible online, they can benefit people in the remote regions with the same quality of consultations that someone in the national capital would be able to avail. With this digital mental health coverage, it is possible to spread awareness and eliminate the stigma associated with mental health problems in the country. This is more so in the rural areas where people continue to discriminate against people suffering from such problems. Moreover, digital consultations offer greater privacy. The elimination of the need to visit a psychiatrist physically also augurs well for the new normal. Online consultations are usually more affordable than an in-person discussion with the mental health professional.
The government is also taking steps to pay greater emphasis on the mental health.Once a proper national mental health policy in place, it would be easier to promote this crucial aspect of wellness. There is no doubt that mental healthcare and wellness will gain prominence in the years ahead and digital consultation platforms are going to be the key to it!