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As The Epidemic of Mental Health Gathers Steam in Bangladesh, Online and Tele Mental Health Services Gain Mainstream Attention

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April 28, 2021

According to a 2019 World Economic Forum report, 4% of the world's population suffers from anxiety disorders, which is approximately 275 million people worldwide.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge in the number of COVID-19 patients is not the only challenge we are dealing with. The number of people suffering from mental issues like anxiety, stress, depression, etc has increased during the pandemic due to various reasons such as isolation, loss of income, loss of life, etc.

Sadly, many people do not seek professional help to deal with mental issues because of the social stigma about mental issues. Many people overlook their mental issues because of a lack of awareness. It should be kept in mind that your mental health is equally important as your physical health. Neglecting mental issues like depression can lead to severe personal and professional harm. 

Over the past years, we have seen a consistent rise in the number of online platforms being launched to provide people with mental health services and create awareness about mental health. 

Some platforms provide professional counseling online and in person. There are services like Kan Pete Roi that run volunteer-led operations and provide free of charge service over the phone and online. There are paid services such as PHWC. We have seen a number of new startups in the space to launch offering interesting solutions. 

All of these platforms strictly maintain confidentiality so that it becomes easier for anyone seeking counseling. Here is a list of the online platforms that provide online and tele-counseling services in Bangladesh.

1.Kan Pete Roi

Kaan Pete Roi is Bangladesh's first emotional support and suicide prevention helpline for people to get immediate emergency counseling. The mission of Kan Pete Roi is to alleviate feelings of despair, isolation, distress, and suicidal feelings among people, through confidential listening.

Founded by Yeshim Iqbal, a graduate of Psychology from Cornell University, Kan Pete Roi started its journey on April 28, 2013.

Anyone can call Kan Pete Roi and get free tele-counseling from their trained volunteers seven days a week. Of late, Kan Pete Roi, with the help of the SAJIDA Foundation, has extended its operating hours to address the sudden surge of mental health issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At present, its service is available from 3 PM to 9 PM from Friday to Wednesday and from 3 PM to 3 AM on Thursday.

Confidentiality is maintained regarding the personal information of both the caller and the volunteer. The callers are allowed to hang up the phone or even not answer any question asked by the volunteer. The volunteers are not allowed to share any personal experience or give advice to the caller, but to listen only.

In April 2020 Kan Pete Roi partnered with  BRAC and Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC) and launched 'Moner Jotno Mobile E', a tele-counseling platform to provide counseling to people who are dealing with mental issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This tele-counseling service is available from 8 AM to 12 AM. 

28 mental health professionals are working on this platform and anyone can call the hotline number (01709-817179) of ‘Moner Jotno Mobile E’ to seek mental support and counseling within a confidential space.

2.Maya

Founded as an online platform that provides healthcare information in 2011, over the past years, Maya has evolved a lot and turned itself into an anonymous messaging platform helping people, regardless of gender, with on-demand expert advice in areas like health, psychology, social problems, and legal aspects.

Besides physical health services, counseling for mental issues is also available on this platform. Regardless of their gender, the users can get counseling on any mental issue they are dealing with from licensed professionals through the Maya app, which was launched in 2015.

To protect the privacy of the users, the app generates random IDs of the patients and the consultations are end-to-end encrypted. 

In 2020, Maya signed an agreement with BGMEA to initiate a toll-free hotline to provide physical mental service to RGM workers.

One of the company’s goals is to make the app more accessible, so people feel more comfortable seeking support for their physical and mental issues.

3.Moner Bondhu

Founded in 2016, Moner Bondhu is an online platform that aims to make professional counseling accessible, affordable, convenient so that anyone who struggles with life’s challenges can get help, anytime, anywhere.

According to Moner Bondhu, they have reached 20,00,000 people through online platforms and 1,10,000 people through various offline events.

Anyone can call their hotline number (01776632344) to get counseling from mental health professionals free of charge. Confidentiality is strictly maintained. The service of Moner Bondhu is available 24/7.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have made all of their services available on various online platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Imo. Migrants and RMG workers can now get professional counseling on Moner Bondhu through Imo. Besides tele-counseling, video counseling is also available on this platform and patients can get video counseling through WhatsApp and Skype.

Moner Bondhu has other initiatives, 'Amar Moner Kotha' and 'Moner Kotha Phone er Kotha', which are radio and TV programs respectively, to make people aware of mental health issues and help them to deal with mental issues.

4.Moner Daktar

Launched in May 2020, Moner Daktar is a joint initiative of the Bangladesh Clinical Psychological Society (BCPS), Tele-psychiatry Research and Innovation Network (TRIN), and Clinical Psychological Department of Dhaka University, which aims to provide mental health service to anyone dealing with mental issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

72 psychologists from the Clinical Psychological Department of Dhaka and BCPS are working voluntarily on this platform to provide professional counseling. Patients can get counseling through the Moner Daktar website and mobile app. Both tele-counseling and video counseling are available on this platform.

To get its service one has to register through its website first. To get some extra facilities one can download the ‘Moner Daktar’ app from the play store or from the website.

5.Mindly

Launched in 2020, Mindly is an online platform working to provide professional counseling to anyone on any mental issue and create awareness about mental health.

Amid the pandemic Mindly is offering professional online counselling service free of charge.

“Moner Bari” is an online program by Mindly where prominent figures such as Dr. Mehtab Khanam, Sara Zaker, Dr. Farah Deeba, Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed, Meher Afroz Shaon, Dr. Abdun Nur Tushar, and others have shared their experience and views on mental health.

Mindly aspires to solve the lack of mental health awareness and insufficient support for people going through mental issues.


Efficacy observation: Can online mental health solutions be reliable alternatives 

As internet penetration in Bangladesh continues to grow, online and tele-counseling are becoming more accessible with time. Although face-to-face is still considered to be more efficient, the advantage of online counseling is that you can get access to online counseling anywhere and anytime. 

Platforms like Kan Pete Roi, Moner Bondhu, etc have made it possible to get mental support even at 3 in the morning while maintaining patient’s anonymity. Many people do not open up about their mental issues because of the fear of being judged. Online mental health platforms help them overcome this issue by maintaining confidentiality. Besides considering the cost, online counseling is more affordable than face-to-face counseling and in some cases, they are free of cost.

According to a study conducted in 2011, online counseling is as efficient as face-to-face counseling. A report published in 2014 by the Journal of Affective Disorders shows that online counseling was just as effective as face-to-face counseling for depression.

In 2018 another study conducted by the Journal of Psychological Disorders found that online cognitive behavioral therapy is equally as effective as a face-to-face treatment for major depression, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

While online counseling has the potential to reduce costs, allow access to underserved populations, and lower client inhibitions, it might also introduce counter-productive elements into a therapy session—such as a lack of non-verbal cues or reduced empathy. Thus it may not be effective as face-to-face treatments in case of long-term mental issues. Besides more research is needed for the conformity of the effectiveness of the online platforms for mental health support.

Although in Bangladesh more research is needed to justify the effectiveness of online mental support service and there are still some drawbacks of online counseling, one thing is certain that online and tele-counseling services are raising awareness among people regarding the importance of mental health, breaking the stigma against mental issues, making more people opening up about their mental issues and seeking mental support.

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Tithi Chowdhury is an undergraduate student majoring in Botany at the University of Dhaka. She is a Trainee Analyst at Future Startup and looks after our Collective Knowledge initiative where she prepares interviews and writes articles on interesting topics. She is a voracious reader and loves listening to podcasts in her spare time.

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