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Addressing gaps in depression care with mobile apps

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NMHANS) aims to address faults in the care system for those with mental health by utilising mobile phone apps according to a report by DNAIndia. Practise and Use Self Help for Depression, PUSH-D, is a mobile phone app developed to help the many thousands of people in India said to suffer from depression without seeking clinical treatment.

While any attempt at addressing the issue of mental health is welcome, the move seems more a token gesture than an actual solution. It may, though, be the first in a series of innovations aimed at combatting the issue. Health Issues India (HII)  has reported before on mental health as  a key concern in modern day Indian healthcare.

A twelve state 2015-2016 survey by NIMHANS revealed that nearly 150 million people in India suffer from mental health conditions deemed to be in need of active intervention. The survey consisted of 34,802 individuals and it was found that 1 in 20 participants of the study suffered with depression. It was also found that depression occurred at a higher rate amongst women, the elderly and those in urban environments.

Dr Seema Mehrotra, professor, Nimhans’ department of clinical psychology says, “The survey indicates that more than 60 per cent do not seek professional help for various mental health problems including depression. There is a need for multiple measures to address this gap”. It is Dr Mehrotra who lead the development of PUSH-D.

The app may prove successful due to the medium by which this innovation is provided, via mobile phone. This allows for access in areas that may be several miles from the closest hospital or doctor’s surgery and so allows for a greater degree of access to the service.

The apps functions involve questionnaires, videos, audio material and text, which can be backed up by weekly interaction via calls and emails to the person’s doctor. This manner of interaction with local doctors may show a marked improvement in the mental well being of the patient, as well as allowing this kind of direct interaction without the need for potential travel over long distances.
As a project without any follow up this may seem like a token gesture, though this is the kind of initiative that has a large degree of potential. Bringing a closer level of interaction between doctor and patient via an online medium is a fantastic way to bring a higher level of healthcare to communities where healthcare infrastructure is lacking, and may be a potential way for India to plug gaps in the healthcare system on a temporary basis until infrastructure projects are brought to rural areas.

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