Pulse

Mental health counsellor just a click away

Rahul Thekdi | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 13, 2015

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Considering the stigma, many prefer the anonymity of the web, but sceptics remain



It started as advice to a friend who was depressed but could not seek counselling from a doctor because of the stigma, says Shipra Dawar, explaining why she founded ePsyclinic, an online mental health-care provider.

People can have the best of lives, but still seem to miss out because they are not immune to mental bad health, she says, stressing the need for many more such initiatives to tackle mental health.

“India has less than 3,500 psychiatrists and even fewer psychologists and counsellors,” Delhi-based Dawar says, and add to that hectic work schedules that make it difficult for people to visit doctors. That’s where an online platform can help.

Despite its prevalence, mental illness still has just a handful of organisations focused on it, says Sujata Madduri, counsellor with 1Life, a Hyderabad-based helpline that offers tele-counseling and web chats.

The World Health Organisation’s list of mental disorders includes depression, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders including autism.

ILife found that of the 2,500-odd calls it received since late February, over half were from those suffering from depression, followed by those with financial troubles (33 per cent), suicidal (23per cent), academic/work-related stress and those without jobs (20 per cent).

A video chat can be a good option when you have little time, agrees Shyam Mithiya, a psychiatrist and counsellor, who runs his own clinic in Mumbai. “In some rare cases patients do not want to see the doctor in person due to fear and anxiety. In such cases an online platform like this can be helpful,” he adds.

But not everyone is convinced of the online option.

A 20-year-old student (identity withheld) who has recovered from severe depression, says, “I feel the process of going to a counsellor is more honest. Live chats can always be misunderstood and it is easier to lie on video chats.”

Access to the Internet is the other drawback. Amrit Bakhshy, President, Schizophrenia Awareness Association, Pune, says: “We have contact details of 183 family caregivers out of whom only 14 have e-mail IDs. Most of these 14 can only send and receive e-mails and can’t make use of Internet services.”

Madduri, however, points out that teenagers in villages also have access to Whatsapp and Facebook using smartphones. “So mobile apps will be effective in villages,” she says. Dawar too is optimistic about digital healthcare solutions in both urban and rural settings.

The convenience notwithstanding, a computer cannot replace human beings, counters another counsellor. Others point out, that greater clarity is required on the extent of medical support that can be dispensed online.

Published on November 13, 2015
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