Mental health has become a critical area of concern in 2021. The looming uncertainty, social distancing, and lockdowns have only served to exacerbate mental health outcomes. The statistics are particularly telling: As per recent WHO estimates, at least 20 percent of Indian suffered from some form of mental illness in 2020. Around 38 million Indians suffer from various anxiety disorders and 56 million Indians from depression. It is alarming to learn that India has only 0.75 Psychiatrists per 100,000 people in its population.
Whereas world-over, approximately 300 million suffer from depression and anxiety disorders affect around 260 million. To make matters worse, in the past 30 years no paradigm changing drugs were developed for mental health disorders. So then, why can we expect 2021 to be a much better year for mental health, despite these revelations?
It is because of new technological innovations. The nature of these innovations makes it easier for patients to connect with mental health professionals, get a diagnosis and thereby treat their condition remotely. So, let’s take a quick look at what these innovations are, based on insights.
Apps for specific mental health conditions
Many health disorders now have apps that help treat them better. Today, major phone ecosystems like Android and iOS have complex and yet intuitive apps pertaining to mental health. There are a plethora of apps that are focussed on particular conditions, like OCD, depression, schizophrenia, and even anxiety. These apps are built to offer support, guide, information, solace, methods to manage symptoms and various other means to aid mental health patients cope with their conditions better. Some apps can even track thoughts and moods as well as treatments. There are other apps that help patients connect with psychiatrists and even find support groups for their conditions.
These apps have the advantage of accessibility, anonymity, affordability and convenience. Many of these apps can be great supplements to mental health treatments but are not replacements for mental health professionals. Patients can use them to manage their conditions better but would still need the aid and guidance of a mental health professional. According to the American Psychological Association, mental health apps number between 10,000 to 20,000.
Many mental health apps today are focussed on certain outcomes and have limited behaviour tracking. However, in time, various advancements in AI may help detect the onset of manic episodes, suicidal inclinations, anxiety attacks, and the symptoms for various other mental health conditions. These apps could then play a critical role in treating these symptoms early or even before they manifest.
For example, with the user’s permission, his or her smartphone behaviour can be tracked. If a user’s syntax changes or he or she starts typing at an extremely quick phase then these could be potential symptoms of mania. The user’s heart rate and pulse can also be tracked to avoid the onset of manic episodes. This data collection could pave the way for mental health professionals to diagnose conditions better and even offer customized treatments to patients based on patterns observed. A digital mind-map or phenotype can be created for enhanced personalized of mental healthcare treatments. This would lead to a focus on prevention as symptoms can be detected early and the further onset of a condition can be stopped.
Since there is a dearth of mental health professionals in India. Patients can use their mobile devices to find the best mental health professional for their needs. A remote diagnosis can also mitigate any fear of an in-person appointment and eventually reduce the stigma towards mental health.
There many apps and platforms available today that offer access to mental health professionals remotely. This can enable mental health patients to garner better and more effective treatment outcomes in the long-run. According to Grand View Research, the global telepsychiatry market was valued at USD 5.5 billion in 2019 and is growing at a CAGR of 24.7 percent for the forecast period of 2019 to 2027. The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of mental health further.
The road ahead
Technology is acting as an enabler for the penetration of mental health services. It has the potential to revolutionize mental health outcomes eventually, bring in more awareness and do away with any of the current stigma with mental health conditions. Patients who are able to manage their symptoms better with technology shall be able to lead richer and fuller lives.