Mobile based mental health care for scheduled tribe villages in rural India

A project to deliver mobile-based services for some common mental disorders for tribal population in Andhra Pradesh is among the 22 inventive ideas that has won the Grand Challenges Canada award for improving health in low resource countries.

Selected through independent peer review, the projects address major health burdens in the developing world including tuberculosis, mental health problems, liver and thyriod illness and non-communicable diseases.

"We are delighted to announce that the Systematic Medical Appraisal, Referral and Treatment (SMART) Mental health programme for rural India will enable us to empower primary health care workers to identify and provide basic evidence-based mental health to disadvantaged scheduled tribe communities where almost no such services exist today," says Pallab Maulik, Deputy Director and Head of Research and Development, The George Institute for Global Health - India.

The global burden of mental disorders and treatment gap is large, especially in countries like India due to poor awareness about mental health and few available mental health professionals for providing care. A potential strategy to narrow this gap is by enabling the available primary-care workforce through provision of affordable, accessible and high-quality electronic clinical decision support.

"The project aims to develop and evaluate the feasibility, acceptability and preliminary effectiveness of a multifaceted primary healthcare worker intervention utilising a mobile device based electronic decision support system to improve the identification and management of individuals greater than 18 years with common mental disorders (CMD) like depression, stress and suicidal risk," says Dr Maulik.

The study will be conducted in 30 Scheduled Tribe villages in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh and cover about 12000 population. Mapping of all the villages is now complete and questionnaires and mobile applications are being developed.

The project will have two key components – develop a mobile based mental health care package and train ASHAs and primary-care doctors in using it appropriately to identify and manage CMD in the community; and conduct a pilot study to evaluate this intervention utilising quantitative and qualitative methods. An anti-stigma campaign will also be developed for the community to be conducted prior to the launch of the intervention.

"This study will result in the development of a highly innovative intervention to improve mental health outcomes in a community with great need. It is anticipated that it will lead to development of a robust intervention for subsequent large-scale implementation and rigorous evaluation," says Dr Maulik.