The importance and urgent need to inject technological and data-driven solutions into the mental health ecosystem


India celebrated October 10 as World Mental Health Day with the theme “Mental health in an unequal world”. The theme could not have been more appropriate in the current circumstances with glaring inequalities among the population in terms of knowledge and awareness, and access to mental health care solutions. According to a Lancet research article, there were 197.3 million people (14.3% of the total population) with mental disorders in India in 2017. The same report states that mental disorders were the leading cause of AVP (Healthy Years of Life Lost Due to Disability) in India, contributing 14.5% of total YLDs in 2017. According to WHO estimates, India will experience economic losses of up to worth US $ 1.03 trillion between 2012-2030, due to mental health issues.

Mental health is unique and incompatible with other health conditions like diabetes because it is difficult to quantify, difficult to diagnose, far from conclusive, and widely stigmatized. It is very poorly understood and remains either outsourced or untreated at all. The pandemic adds fuel to the fire that has made nearly 55% of Indian professionals feel stressed at work, according to the results of a LinkedIn survey of 3,881 professionals conducted this year between July 31 and July 24. September. The results brought in strong emphasis on the mental health of the workforce, and highlighted work-life imbalance, insufficient income and slow career progress as the top three causes of stress at work in India. .

The gaps and challenges in the country’s mental health ecosystem are many. There is an alarming shortage of “providers” – India has only 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 population, compared to a conservative estimate of three and 0.07 psychologists / social workers per 100,000 population compared to over 30 in the States. -United. A major factor preventing people from seeking help is the frightening perception of a mental health facility and the stigma of failure and weaknesses associated with seeking help.

The possible similarity of symptoms between several mental health disorders often makes an accurate diagnosis difficult. Difficulty expressing a disorder correctly can also lead to a misdiagnosis – in several states in India, people do not know how to express depression in their own native languages. The affordability of current solutions is also a major obstacle. For example, in pay per session models, the price can range from Rs. 300 to Rs. 7000 and more per session.

Despite the challenges, we have come a long way in terms of raising awareness and treating mental illness. Policy-level initiatives like the Mental Health Law in 2017 and community-level mental health programs show that central and state governments are catching up quickly; although only 0.6% of India’s health budget is spent on mental health care.

According to a latest report, the boom in internet access and telecommunications offers the right opportunity for digital technologies and innovations in products, services and business models to expand mental health solutions.

Some of the highly billed digital tools include telepsychiatry, teleconsultation, meditation and mental wellness apps and games, AI chatbots, digital assessment and diagnosis, digital therapy approaches, virtual training and support. clinic, personal health trackers, social media websites, online peer support forums, and much more. Startups combine digital tools and virtual care to create a robust ecosystem for end-to-end patient care, including referring patients to in-person care when needed. In terms of products, disruptive technology models using AI and machine learning are accelerating as they reduce the chances of misdiagnosis, thereby improving treatment outcomes. Sparcolife, based in Bengaluru, has developed a diagnostic tool that uses video analytics as the primary screening and assessment modality and has partnered with healthcare facilities to roll out the product. Investments in digital therapies and AR / VR technologies can make mental health care more accessible, despite the growing shortage of specialists in the field. Delhi-based TattvaVR is a provider of virtual simulations that helps patients deal with virtual scenarios and experiences to treat phobia, anxiety, and PTSD.

In terms of business models, startups are also positioning themselves as B2B2C platforms where employers pay for the mental well-being of their employees for better productivity. Manah Wellness, based in Pune, is building a comprehensive and preventative emotional well-being platform for employers that focuses on three important pillars, namely emotional well-being, personal growth and professional effectiveness.

Mental health startups have historically faced challenges due to social stigma and unproven business models. With the current favorable winds and growing awareness, investments in startups have seen a positive change as investors are very excited about models solving demand and supply issues. Technology, without a doubt, is the much needed boost in democratizing mental health in India. However, a collective push is required from several stakeholders.

The ecosystem needs startups to create innovative digital solutions to solve the problems of awareness, diagnosis and treatment, and investors to look at promising business models. Companies need to develop policies and supports for employee mental health, as it is high time that insurers start covering mental illness hospital costs as well as outpatient counseling or therapy. A lot would change once the mental health law was implemented and enforced. However, the most important cog of the wheel remains the openness of society to recognize and address mental health issues.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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