A mobile application, mPareshan, will help mentally distressed people seek immediate help to prevent them from committing suicide or taking any other extreme step, stated a press release issued on Monday. Through this app the Lady Health Workers (LHWs) in Badin will provide mental health services at the doorstep of communities as part of a pilot study launched by researchers from the Aga Khan University.
Badin has the second-highest suicide rate in the province, according to a 2021 report by the Sindh Mental Health Authority, the press release said.
Access to mental healthcare is a major challenge for people in rural parts of the district and treatment is often avoided due to the stigma attached. Accessing psychiatrists and psychologists requires travel to hospitals in cities like Hyderabad and Karachi.
The first phase of the study will involve identifying cases of anxiety and depression through a survey of households in Badin. LHWs and Lady Health Supervisors, (LHSs), will subsequently receive training in community mental health modules under the World Health Organisation's Mental Health Gap (mhGAP) intervention guide which has been specifically designed for use in non-specialised health settings.
The study will then see LHWs, LHSs and field staff in Badin apply their training and use mPareshan, a mobile health app, during household visits to provide lay counselling services, mood lifting exercises as well as tracking and referral of high risk cases to the next level of care.
"This study will provide technological solution for community-based mental health services through frontline healthcare workers, describe burden of mental health problems and establish estimates of anxiety and depression in a rural setting," says Professor Fauziah Rabbani, the project's principal investigator.
Following the intervention, researchers will evaluate changes in participants' depression and anxiety scores, and assess changes in the knowledge and skills of health workers in treating mental health issues.
The study, which has been endorsed by the Sindh government, is being conducted by faculty at AKU department of community health sciences in collaboration with the AKU Brain and Mind Institute.
The project builds on the successes of the AKU's WHO funded NIGRAAN and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-sponsored Umeed-e-Nau NIGRAAN PLUS project s in Badin and Mirpurkhas respectively which improved the ability of LHWs to diagnose and treat cases of pneumonia and diarrhoea, and enhanced the supervisory skills of LHSs.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 6th, 2021.