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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 58-60

Training mental health professionals for COVID-19 pandemic and beyond

Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Submission06-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance06-Aug-2020
Date of Web Publication2-Oct-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Jagadisha Thirthalli
Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_255_20

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How to cite this article:
Thirthalli J, Patley R, Kumar CN. Training mental health professionals for COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36, Suppl S1:58-60

How to cite this URL:
Thirthalli J, Patley R, Kumar CN. Training mental health professionals for COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2020 Oct 26];36, Suppl S1:58-60. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2020/36/5/58/297151

The number of people affected by mental health problems attributable to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is several folds higher than the number of people infected with the virus. Mental health professionals (MHPs) are called to address this “mental health pandemic.” The world was experiencing shortage of MHPs even before this pandemic.[1] The added expectation in the wake of the pandemic calls for radical changes in the way MHPs approach mental health issues. In this write-up, we briefly discuss training of MHPs to address this challenge.

The pandemic and the lockdowns have affected the mental health of virtually everyone, barring infants and toddlers. They may experience problems ranging from transient anxiety to severe, persistent distress needing professional help. [Table 1] describes these problems and possible interventions.
Table 1: Interventions required for mental healthcare of different categories of individuals in India

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These interventions neatly fit into the World Health Organization's optimal mix of services for mental health [Figure 1],[2] alluded to in the article by Murthy [3] in this special issue. It balances the needs and the availability of resources.
Figure 1: World Health Organization's pyramid framework for optimal mix of services for mental health[2]

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During this pandemic, the role of MHPs would be to (1) assist the public in using self-care and informal community care, (2) empower primary healthcare professionals in providing mental healthcare, and (3) continue to provide mental healthcare in secondary and tertiary care centers.

  Methods of Providing Services Top

The challenge of reaching mental healthcare to a large population described in [Table 1] is huge. There is need to blend traditional methods with innovative, technology-assisted ones. To enhance self-care and informal community care, the MHPs should collate the existing material from different sources, particularly from disaster management resources, modify them to suit the needs of different categories of people who need them, and disseminate them in simple, understandable, and accessible formats. These include printed material, use of radio and television, electronic methods including mobile apps, material that can be disseminated as documents and audio/video materials through websites, YouTube, and social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and Instagram. Provision of accurate information and prevention of unsubstantiated or unauthentic information form a crucial part of informal community care. To empower primary healthcare professionals, the MHPs should train them in providing mental healthcare and modifying the already existing material to suit the current situation. Much of this would involve counseling. For ensuring larger reach in times of lockdown, the professionals should be trained in running helplines. To train a large number of professionals in a short period, there is need to (1) train several levels of trainers using training of trainers' models and (2) use technology-enabled, video-based methods of providing training. For providing mental healthcare at the secondary and tertiary levels during a time when travel restrictions are in place, the MHPs may use telemedicine tools in addition to the in-person methods.

  Training Mental Health Professionals Top

MHPs are typically trained in providing traditional, in-person professional care for people with clinical conditions. As can be surmised from the previous paragraphs, the needs of the community are considerably different. First, there is need for the MHPs to assume the position of trainers and planners of training. Second, there is need for them to change the method of providing direct mental healthcare. To achieve the former, they need training in collating and modifying the content, as well as the format of training. To achieve the latter, they need training in telemedicine technology and guidelines.

To prepare training materials and to plan training of MHPs at a national level, there is need for experts from the fields of disaster mental healthcare, health education (including mass media experts), telemedicine information technology, and community medicine to work together. Several challenges are to be anticipated in this process. (1) Public health initiatives need coordination among several governmental and private agencies. This requires a strong political will and consistent intersectoral administrative support. (2) MHPs are expected to be swamped with demand for direct mental healthcare by a large number of needy people. Moreover, doctors among the MHPs are likely to be called in for medical care of COVID-19 patients. MHPs would need protected time for their own training and for training of other professionals. (3) This pandemic is still evolving. The nature and extent of its impact are still unfolding. Guidelines run the risk of being outdated quickly. MHPs should be sensitive about this and should change their strategies accordingly. (4) Information technology plays a critical role in meeting the huge demand for mental healthcare and training of professionals. Government and private stakeholders of information technology should ensure seamless availability and accessibility of high-quality mobile network and devices to access the network.

  Time Top

It is aptly said that this pandemic is both a sprint and a marathon. We need to address the immediate needs, while we train MHPs and other providers for the longer run. Several national institutes have already come up with resources including manuals [4] and webinar series,[5] addressing mental health concerns of different stakeholders. We may start our sprint with this, while preparing for the marathon as described in the previous paragraphs.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

World Health Organization. Mental Health Atlas 2017. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2018.  Back to cited text no. 1
World Health Organization. Improving Health Systems and Services for Mental Health. WHO Mental Health Policy and Service Guidance Package. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009.  Back to cited text no. 2
Murthy R. COVID-19 pandemic and emotional health-social psychiatry perspective. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36 (Suppl):S24-S42.  Back to cited text no. 3
Reddy JY, Jaisoorya T. Mental Health in the Times of COVID-19 Pandemic. Guidelines for General Medical and Specialised Mental Health Care Settings. Bengaluru: NIMHANS; 2020.  Back to cited text no. 4
Department of Telemedicine PI of ME and R Chandigarh. Webinar Session VI: Mental Health Issues during COVID-19. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=17&v=lJhp9Nakqxg&feature=emb_logo. [Last accessed on 2020 May 31].  Back to cited text no. 5


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1]


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