HMS-Led Initiative Develops Digital Mental Health Training Platform in US and India | New

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EMPOWER, a digital mental health care training platform at Harvard Medical School, has strengthened psychosocial care systems in the United States and India during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The initiative was launched in 2019 to address global disparities in mental health. The program runs an online program to train mental health workers – including frontline and community health workers – in the development and delivery of psychological therapy.

According to Anant Bhan, senior researcher for the group’s operations in India, the initiative trains community health workers there through educational modules, workshops and videos to expand local access to care for the disorders. mental disorders, especially depression.

“What’s more convenient is actually having a lot of frontline health care,” Bhan said. “Of course, you will still need psychiatrists and psychologists, perhaps for severe mental disorders, etc., but there are many common mental disorders that should ideally be treated at the community level. “

Global Health professor HMS Vikram Patel, who heads the group, said in an interview in June that his growing frustrations at “singularly unsuccessful” progress and “incredibly difficult barriers” to mental health care among disadvantaged populations in developing countries motivated him to help develop the initiative.

“The idea behind EMPOWER was to develop innovative ways which we know can overcome these obstacles which have also emerged, to a large extent, from countries of the South,” Patel said.

The group’s virtual training platform uses new technologies, including virtual and augmented reality and natural language processing, to help train healthcare providers in a variety of evidence-based behavioral treatments.

The medical school nonprofit also hopes to expand its virtual training and interventions to health systems in countries other than the United States and India, according to John A. Naslund, a member of the management committee. and HMS instructor in global health and social medicine.

“What’s exciting about EMPOWER is that it is building on this base of work in India to try to expand this globally – not just in a district and a health system in an Indian state, but thinking how can we do it in multiple states in India, ”Naslund said. “It’s a key aspect of our work, as well as healthcare systems in the United States and other countries. “

In June, the mental health initiative was partially awarded a $ 10 million Lone Star Award, a Texas-based competition launched to fund efforts to build healthier communities, enabling the initiative to expand and to step up operations in Texas.

The initiative’s digital format has been particularly useful in India, allowing work to continue despite the devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic there in May.

Ravindra Agrawal, lead researcher for the initiative in India, called EMPOWER’s digital work “Covid-proof”.

“If all the emphasis was on in-person training, it obviously would have come to a complete stop,” he added.

—Editor-in-Chief Ariel H. Kim can be contacted at [email protected]

– Editor Anjeli R. Macaranas can be contacted at [email protected]


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