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More mental-health services being delivered remotely

Published:Friday | July 10, 2020 | 12:05 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

At least 1,300 Jamaicans have been seeking mental-health services through a telemedicine platform since the onset of COVID-19.

Telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services such as health assessments or consultations over the phone or online.

CEO of MDLink, Dr Che Bowen, told The Gleaner that this is a “dramatic increase” as prior to the pandemic, Jamaicans were not seeking said service on the platform.

The pandemic pushed 10,000 patients to register on the platform, moving enrollment to 13,000 – 10 per cent of whom are mental-health patients.

Bowen said that though the population has generally been less receptive to seeking mental-health care, the pandemic has highlighted that all are at risk of some form of mental stress.

“COVID-19 has brought on large amounts of mental stressors, including job insecurity, job loss, kids not in school, domestic abuse, child abuse, relationship difficulties, and even severe loneliness. From the extreme mass media coverage and the constant updates, it seems that almost everyone has been mentally affected in one way or another, some more than others,” he explained.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Kristen Robinson-Barrett says that a number of her patients have opted to use video-conferencing as a solution to social distancing.

“Depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are some of the top conditions that have been seen during this pandemic,” Robinson-Barrett said.

Bowen explained that Jamaica is still in the early stages of a digital health revolution, but psychiatrists and therapists have been among the first adopters of telehealth because mental-health care does not require a physical examination.

“Mental-health care relies solely on the ability for medical providers and patients to connect emotionally and to have a conversation,” he shared.

He added that efforts must be made to move mental health to the forefront of “normal healthcare”.

“Telepsychiatry also helps patients avoid stigma and supports patient privacy in that a patient can now seek medical treatment from the privacy of their bedroom or car. Some patients do not enjoy being seen at mental-health clinics. As long as a patient has a way to connect to the Internet, telepsychiatry enables them to access treatment,” explained Bowen.