For long, mental health issues have been a “closed-door pandemic” that is affecting our well-being. In fact, nearly 800 million people worldwide – which is 11% of the global population – live with a mental health condition. What hasn’t helped is the two odd years of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has, in fact, exacerbated mental health concerns around the world, triggering a rise in the prevalence of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms and stress and, in turn, a decline in mental well-being. India alone witnessed a 20 per cent increase in reported cases of mental health conditions within a week of the first lockdown in 2020. Not just that, but the number of patient queries about mental health has grown noticeably during and after the pandemic outbreak.
However, it is not easy for many to reach out for help, thanks to countless hurdles that exist in this sphere. These include lack of time, financial resources, and privacy. In fact, in India, intersectionalities of socio-economic conditions, gender, regional geographies, caste, class and religion often act as barriers to accessing even healthcare, let alone mental healthcare. Add to this mix the stigma attached to mental health that further discourages people from attending a consultation. And this is especially true in a country like India, where mental health is often viewed through a lens of shame as well as misleading preconceptions and notions.
Truth is, many in our country and the world at large have questions and concerns about their mental health. They even want to get answers to their questions. The catch being – they also want to remain anonymous. Consequently, a digital disruption began that drastically evolved the mental healthcare landscape, paving the path for the emergence of virtual care and mental health apps. And while these digital apps tend to transcend the restrictions of geographical boundaries and time constraints, one of their most crucial benefits is that they also keep things anonymous. Owing to this, these apps allow you to seek professional mental health resources like therapy which is hard to access, especially in countries and communities where it is stigmatised. Not just that, but they are also a respite for those who were initially avoiding in-person therapy as they could not afford the time or the resources to avail help for their emotional needs.
As a matter of fact, mental health apps truly help create a space that provides anonymity, in turn, making the entire process non-judgemental and stigma-free, thanks to its many burgeoning benefits. These include –
A. Your first step
For many, even being aware of their own mental health condition and well-being – be it the need for active self-care, prioritising their happiness, addressing their vulnerabilities or acknowledging their pain – is in itself a bit of a privilege. And for those, who do recognise that they need mental healthcare, they don’t know what the first step is. This is where mental health apps come into play.
B. No more referrals or a heavy search for therapists
There most definitely exists a shortage of competent psychiatrists and psychologists. India itself has just 0.75 therapists for every 100,000 people in the country – where the minimum number should be anywhere above 3. And this makes finding a competent, qualified and verified therapist a burdensome process.
Generally, people rely on word of mouth to find the right fit and often, finding the right fit means going through multiple therapists. However, when it comes to mental health apps, they do the leg work for you. All you need to do is select the therapist that feels right for you and get good quality help. All this while remaining anonymous.
C. Quick connect to therapists
Those looking for therapists near them might not necessarily find one. And even if they do, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to get a session as soon as they would want. Additionally, there also exists a lack of access to physical and mental health professionals beyond large urban centres.
Unfortunately, more often than not, we tend to give up on mental healthcare at these different touch points – due to the stigma attached as well as the obstacles to accessing mental healthcare. But having an app on your phone makes it significantly easier to access mental healthcare from anywhere in the world. You don’t need to go through the back and forth or the usual waiting period before a time slot can be agreed upon with your therapist and then show up for the appointment. These apps can connect users across the country with the right therapist and give access to communicate with them on the same day itself.
Ease of Use
A part of the stigma is already broken when people can access mental healthcare in a format in which they are comfortable. For instance – texting.
Most mental health apps are text-based, where users can synchronously or asynchronously chat with their therapists. This chat function provides a level of informality that remains unmatched by traditional therapy, which is always in a formal setting. Moreover, it also helps maintain anonymity as you can conceal your face and voice. Nobody needs to see you come and go out of a room or a place. There is no chance of running into anyone on an app.
Privacy & Confidentiality
It is the responsibility of the app to have the right data protection and security measures in place. Meanwhile, the therapists on the app follow the same client-therapist confidentiality as they would in their traditional, in-person private practice.
In metro cities, a 40 to 50 minutes session can range anywhere from INR 2500 to INR 8000 (per session). This might not necessarily be pocket-friendly for a part of the population that still needs access to mental healthcare. However, using a text-based format removes the need for hourly or session-based charging as the user generally pays for the 2-week or 1-month access. It is, in turn, up to 5 times cheaper than in-person session-based therapy.
Management of Symptoms
After a certain point of being in therapy, clients don’t always require active intervention. And mental health apps also offer an affordable way to continue to get mental health support that is not at a clinical level. For instance, most apps allow for monitoring of symptoms and progress without having to engage in and spend on active therapy.
There are a lot of people who simply want to talk to someone. But the inherent stigma or bias has always singled them out for displaying this need to talk about their emotional state of being. Mental health apps tend to de-stigmatise the experience as it offers more privacy and safety to people in their own space. These apps empower people to talk without shame, thereby playing a critical role in democratising therapy economically and socially without the costs that come with offline sessions.
Moreover, the narrative around mental wellness and health is shifting today. And the rise of these apps is further boosting crucial conversations around mental health and normalising seeking help when needed.