National Telehealth Mental Programme : An Opportunity for Mental Wellness Startups to Scale

Mental wellness startups earlier found it difficult to scale but with the government's initiative of prioritising mental health in 2022, will it boost them?


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Mental wellness startups might get a boost with the government's launch of NTMP

The Grand Slam organisers reacted strongly when Naomi Osaka prioritised her mental health by refusing to speak to the media after her first match at Roland Garros. While the world lauded her move, the reaction from Grand Slam organisers resulted in a ban of playing in the future tournament and a $15000 fine.
Naomi Osaka suffering bouts of depression was heard globally since she was a sportsperson. Imagine the fate of those where mental illnesses form a large part of the pie and yet remain understated. People with mental illness are not aware if they need to seek any medical help and live with it. In India, a national mental health survey revealed that approximately 10 percent of adults showcase symptoms of mental health conditions ranging from anxiety-related illnesses to severe mental trauma. A Lancet study estimated that a massive 197.3 million had mental disorders in 2017, including 45.7 million people with depressive disorders and 44.9 million disorders. In 2019, an average of 381 deaths were reported. The outbreak of Covid-19 exacerbated the problem of mental illness that resulted in a massive jump of 367 percent in mental health queries, with most coming from rural India
Unfortunately, the lack of mental health experts and awareness about keeping a healthy mind has kept mental illness unaddressed for a long in India.

The disparity and lack of mental health experts

The ratio of mental health experts available per patient is highly staggered. There are 9000 psychiatrists in India with around 700 psychiatrists graduating every year, so the ratio becomes 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, this ratio is far from a minimum of 3 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. Besides this, there is a huge imbalance in the availability of psychiatrists and psychologists. States like Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu have a high number of post-graduate training institutes in psychiatry whereas in states like Chhattisgarh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram where there is not even a single training institute. From this, it is evident that there lies a huge disparity in doctors and a large part of rural and semi-urban India remains underserved in mental health.

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There are 9000 psychiatrists in India with around 700 psychiatrists graduating every year, so the ratio becomes 0.75 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.

What National Telehealth Mental Programme (NTMP) will bring to the table?

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the National Telehealth Mental Programme will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence in association with NIMHANS ( National Institute for Mental Health and Neurosciences) which will act as the nodal centre with the International Institute of Information technology (IIIT-Bangalore) providing technical support. The NTMP will be launched as an open platform that will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, and universal access to health facilities thus building stronger health systems. Can this boost the mental wellness startups now?

Can mental wellness startups scale now?

Mental wellness startups face hardships while securing funding from investors. According to the data provided by the industry tracker, Traxcn Indian mental health startups have raised only $20 million between 2016 and 2020. Investors, in general, have shown reluctance in funding such startups as they doubted the market size and the small number of qualified professionals in the sector, and the stigma associated with mental health issues due to which the startups found it tough to scale.
The paucity of healthcare experts can be bridged by these telehealth centres associating with mental wellness startups. Since such internet-driven ecosystems will enable users to find experts that best align with their requirements.

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