Mental health in India has a huge mismatch between supply and demand. According to a 2005 study by the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health, there are at least 71 million cases of the serious mental disorder in India.

However, there are only 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.05 psychologists, and 0.03 social workers per 100,000 population. The situation is even worse in the academic setting; India has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. Simply increasing the workforce will not necessarily solve the problem; moreover, it is a difficult, inefficient and time-consuming process. Digital platforms could be the solution we are looking for: they can help mental health professionals reach more patients in remote locations.

One such solution is a mobile app called Lantern, being tested out as part of a Stanford University pilot project. The project is currently running at two colleges in Hyderabad, with great response. Benefits of the app (and of any such digital solution for mental health) include the ease of access to counselors, cost efficiency and most importantly, confidentiality, an issue that is of grave concern in Indian society due to the taboo on mental health.

The app assesses the students through a preliminary survey and categorizes them accordingly. For this pilot project, 6% of students assessed were found to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and were therefore directly referred to therapists for face-to-face counseling. Those who demonstrated less intense levels of mental health conditions were provided with the app. In this way, the students with more intense, critical mental health issues can receive help right away.

The app works in a very simple manner – it asks questions about the user’s mood and stress levels, and makes recommendations on appropriate meditative techniques. In addition, the app offers access to remote therapists who act as a “coach” for the user, thus providing a human element to anxiety management, while maintaining confidentiality and cost efficiency.

The success of the pilot project will be determined later this year when data is analyzed. If successful, there are plans to launch this application at institutes across the country. Of course, the universities must pay for the app, but it is significantly cheaper than hiring the required number of full-time therapists.

This is just one of many examples of how digital solutions can fill in the huge opportunity gap to help solve mental health problems.

Mehek is an engineer with a keen interest in the healthcare business in India. Leveraging her past experience in digital healthcare consulting in New York, she now works as a marketing manager for Mirai Health.

Reference
“A mobile app is helping Hyderabad students keep the blues away” by Vivekananda Nemana, June 9, 2015, published on www.scroll.in