With the mention of the launch of the new tele mental health programme in the Union Budget, the question arises whether this method of seeking help is accessible and inclusive
While Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on Tuesday, said that a National Tele Mental Health Programme would be launched, some psychologists observed that though tele mental therapy will not replace the effectiveness of a one-to-one physical counselling, it can be a viable option given the Covid-19 pandemic.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines tele mental health as the use of telecommunications or video-conferencing methods to provide mental health services.
Nandini Raman, a consultant counsellor in Chennai who also attends to people abroad, said that adequate training would be required for counsellors and this is lacking. She added that the confidentiality of the person seeking advice is also likely to be affected in the case of tele counselling.
She said that Artificial intelligence (AI) is already making everything virtual and it is eventually going to take over.
“At least until that, I would prefer one-to-one communication,” Raman said.
Kalpana Suryakumar, who had worked as the President of the Chennai Counselors Foundation, said that given the pandemic situation tele mental health services had to be the way out.
She said that they had organised a free tele counseling project during the pandemic for a month. A lot of anxiety-affected people had availed their services then. Some were people who had recovered from Covid-19, others were those who were apprehensive of getting infected.
The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in many being affected by mental health issues. A study published in the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) says that Covid-19 suicides have been increasingly common in many states. The major mental health issues included stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Suhasini Srinivasaragavan, who had been taking counselling sessions, said, “Covid has absolutely obliterated the mental health mine. Life was like an episode of black mirror, just the same every single day, and without any change.”
Preethi Kannan is a social worker at The Banyan (an NGO working for mental health). She had previously worked at a tele-counselling centre during the pandemic.
Kannan said that even though tele mental therapy provides immediate relief to a person, it becomes difficult for the counsellor to judge emotions – without a face-to-face interaction.
She said that sometimes it could take up a lot of energy from the counsellor. Some people call her during irregular hours to seek advice, this intrusion is often not welcome.
The cost of availing these services using this method is likely to go down since the investment on the part of the counsellor will also reduce, said Dr. M V Sudhakaran, the professor and Director Chairperson of the School of Social Sciences at the Tamilnadu Open University.
“Tele counselling was a utopian concept, now after the pandemic it has become real” said Sudhakaran.
He added that this National Tele Mental Health Programme can only be successful if the infrastructure is adequately provided. In case of video-conferencing, not many have the accessibility ; even in case of Android phones users should be aware of how to use them to avail these services.
Sitharaman said that the programme will be brought into force with the help of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) acting as the nodal agency. The Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Bangalore will provide the technical support.