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Health + Tech | Teletherapy and virtual mental-health services

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2020 | 12:13 AM
Doug Halsall
Doug Halsall

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a new normal for many of us. Most people are simply not used to having to stay away from friends and loved ones as long as we have been during isolation and quarantine. Humans are, by nature, social creatures, so this is especially hard for a number of persons. I have seen more and more persons saying that they have been having feelings of anxiety and depression during this time. Children and teenagers, in particular, who are accustomed to a school environment, where they can relate to friends every day, have been deprived of that level of socialisation.

The ‘Study of Knowledge, Attitude, Anxiety & Perceived Mental Healthcare Need in [the] Indian Population During [the] COVID-19 Pandemic’, conducted by Deblina Roy, et al, used an online survey and got a total of 662 responses from persons who had at least a moderate knowledge of COVID-19 and how to prevent it.

“The anxiety levels identified in the study were high. More than 80% of persons were preoccupied with the thoughts of COVID-19 and 72% reported the need to use gloves and sanitisers. In this study, sleep difficulties, paranoia about acquiring COVID-19 infection and distress related to social media were reported in 12.5%, 37.8%, and 36.4 % of participants, respectively. The perceived mental healthcare need was seen in more than 80% of participants,” the report reads.

Telemedicine has provided a virtual gateway for continued medical care without having to go to a doctor’s office or hospital. However, we tend to focus more on other medical issues outside of mental health despite the relatively large percentage of our population that is affected by this. The current climate requires more inventive ways for persons to easily and privately access care. This is where technology comes in.

Teletherapy allows for a virtual session between therapist and client that can be done using various forms of communication technology. It can be done over the phone through chat groups and regular video conferencing. However, telemedicine is a primary – and perhaps the best – way to achieve this for the doctor to maintain the business aspect of the practice and for the client to have the benefit of the session being saved on his/her electronic health records.

Apart from this, and the obvious privacy it provides, teletherapy has more benefits. Greater access is one. The restrictions that we face with COVID-19, especially for those communities that are placed under quarantine, means that there is need to find a way to continue treatment and care for mental health. Teletherapy provides this alternative. It also allows persons with physical disabilities to be able to access care from home with ease. A telemedicine, and, therefore, a teletherapy session is usually more affordable. Currently, discussions are taking place with the major insurance companies for patients to be able to use their health insurance for a telemedicine sessions.

Coupled with the fact that persons are in need of mental healthcare more than ever, given the current circumstances – reduced socialisation, increased stress, job loss, illness, and death – people are in need of access to remote mental-health services, which teletherapy satisfies.

It is estimated that at least 25 per cent of Jamaicans have some kind of mental illness. Many persons go undiagnosed because of the stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness. Options for mental healthcare have increased with the use of technology. Teletherapy is set to revolutionise the way we approach and view mental health care.

Doug Halsall is the chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Send feedback to