Mental health apps are gaining traction among doctors, patients

NEW DELHI : The shortage of competent psychiatrists and psychologists, and the stigma associated with mental health problems that discourage people from seeking face-to-face consultation, is driving the medical community to recommend the use of mobile applications and teleconsultation.

Rituparna Ghosh, a consultant at Apollo Hospitals, in Navi Mumbai, who even recommends its use, said that mental health has been a “secret pandemic” affecting people’s well-being, and the number of patient inquiries about mental health has increased since the bud. of covid Due to the restrictions, more people turned to applications to communicate with medical professionals.

Duncan Stewart, director of research for the Canada division of consultancy Deloitte, said global spending on mental health apps is expected to reach $500 million in 2022, up from $200 million in 2019. that, in the long term, it will continue to grow, especially as companies figure out how to monetize it.”

The trend is also happening in India. Amit Malik, founder and CEO of InnerHour, a mental health app, said he witnessed a 300% increase in downloads in 2021. The app is now used by three million users. Malik said about 60% of users came from Tier 2 and Sub-Tier 2 cities, and there was almost a 300% growth in teletherapy services.

PN Sudarshan, partner and technology, media and telecom industry leader at Deloitte India, said the main reason for this growth in in-app queries is lack of access to physical and mental health professionals beyond the large urban centers.

In a report released last week, titled TMT Predictions 2022, Deloitte said India has 0.29 psychiatrists and 0.07 psychologists per 100,000 people, compared to an average of 0.51 psychiatrists and 0.26 psychologists in other countries. low and middle income.

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But a shortage of doctors isn’t the only reason Indians use the apps. The stigma associated with mental health discourages many from visiting psychiatric wards or seeing doctors in person.

Ghosh said patients can be asked to review mental health apps for information on immediate crisis intervention and prevention, some primary treatment and as an alternative to in-person therapy.

“To a certain extent, the apps can address concerns, as immediate intervention and treatment can be offered to people in remote areas, and sometimes they work 24 hours a day,” he added.

Vijay Raaghavan, director of analytics solutions provider Fractal Analytics, said chatbot features in such apps add value as people with depression or psychosis don’t identify with a problem and therefore don’t like to seek help online. person for fear of stigma. Apps keep things anonymous. “Some of the chatbots also use natural language processing to understand text and tonality to manage the conversation thread and escalate it if needed,” he said, adding that the most used functionality in mental health apps is immediate response. to certain triggers.

“There are a lot of people who want to talk to someone. That functionality is being fully exploited by mental health apps through chatbots,” she added. Mental health apps are also profitable.

For example, InnerHour charges $650 per hour, while mental wellness apps like Calm offer an annual subscription fee of $2,999 for expert classes and guided exercises. Psychiatrists and psychologists, on the other hand, can charge up to $1,000 or more for a single session. That said, while many doctors endorse these apps, they also caution against relying on them for more serious problems. Ghosh said that if concerns are serious, it’s always a good idea to meet with mental health professionals and follow their treatment and therapy protocol.

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