Technology opening new frontiers in mental health support system: Dr Sahir Jamati

This World Mental Health Day, ETHealthworld talks to Dr Sahir Jamati, consultant psychologist and psychotherapist at Masina Hospital, to understand how the Covid-19 pandemic has lead to a sea change in the acceptance of mental health issues among people and the role technology is playing in helping people seek timely care.

Q: Since the beginning of the pandemic, how do you see the trend in people seeking help for their mental health issues?
The emergence of pandemic brought a forcible change in the lives of many. Schools, colleges, workplaces and institutions converged at home which has worsened the vulnerability of mental health. Here are few mental and behavioural health trends seen on the rise:

1. Telehealth, Tele-counselling and Telepsychiatry – Till this day since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a continuous surge of teleservices to deliver mental and behavioural healthcare to the masses, which can still be expected to continue past 2021. Thanks to teleservices and technology, individuals from across the globe and socioeconomic status have available access to cost-effective mental healthcare. Even though teleservices are taking away human touch, it still succeeds in creating a positive relationship, sense of safety, security and privacy for many patients.

2. Rising demand for Mental Health services – since the beginning of pandemic, many people experienced significant psychological distress. There are many who are still struggling with issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, fear, frustration, sleep irregularities, anger, denial, etc which comes due to the collision of many aspects of lives such as families, unemployment, uncertainty, loneliness, beliefs, identities, etc. This gives rise to an increase in demand for mental health services.

3. Remote working has become the new normal – leaders and employees have started giving importance to flexibility in creating their working style to complete their roles and produce outcomes.

4. Lifestyle changes – There are many who gained a considerable amount of weight throughout the pandemic lockdown situation. Amongst them there are many who developed mental stress and fatigue about the way they started to look and function. There are many who choose to have some motivation session to push themselves hard to start a healthy lifestyle regime.

5. Prioritizing teacher’s mental health – In addition to healthcare workers and police personnel, one of the unsung heroes of the pandemic are the educators. Stress and burden of online teaching, additional changes within our education system has also affected teacher’s well-being. It has become important to include the understanding of mental health in the curriculum of teachers which may enable them to address and help the mental health issues in early stages.

Q: Which are the most commonly detected mental health issues?
Nowadays the most common mental health issues that people are struggling with is anxiety, depression, stress, fear, frustration, sleep irregularities, anger, etc which comes due to the collision of many aspects of lives such as families, unemployment, uncertainty, loneliness, beliefs, identities, etc.

Q: Which are the most vulnerable groups?
Almost every category of population is more or less affected with mental health issues, but the ones observed to have got affected more are the children and older people, front-line workers and people already suffering from existing mental health conditions.

Q: How do you find the technology-driven mental health support initiatives? What are the challenges that still need to be addressed?
Technology use through mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are now opening new frontiers in mental health support system to provide public and doctors to access help, monitor progress and understand mental well-being in a simple yet effective manner.

New technologies have led to the development of online applications and software that are capable of detecting changes in behaviour patterns, improve memory or thinking skills, connect to a counsellor or health care professional, etc.

The number of such available apps is growing every year. However with uncertainty associated with them, little industry regulations and lack of information on effectiveness, these can also often mislead its users. It is very important to keenly look at the advantages and disadvantages of expanding mental health treatment using technological advancements and should be only approved after sufficient research is done.

Q: What is your message on World Mental Health Day?
After having experienced the vulnerabilities of our mental healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become evident that for any health care system to achieve sustainability, we need strong primary healthcare services comprising of both physical and mental health components. Mental health services must be therefore integrated into health care systems, included in the basic health care benefit packages.

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