Innovation in mental health care: Strengthening mental health and wellness during Covid-19

The ongoing Covid-19 outbreak is indeed very stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about the disease is often overwhelming and can cause strong emotions. The primary cause of stress is associated with uncertainties about one’s own health and the health of the loved ones. This can often cause depression and anxiety among patients and frontline health care providers. Health workers are working under extreme psychological stress due to their additional workload, fear of getting infected, and periodic isolation from their families and friends.

Maternal and Child Health Division (MCHD) of icddr,b has developed a web-based online platform to provide virtual mental health counselling services to both health care providers and Covid-19 patients. Under this initiative, until now, 1,693 Covid-19 patients and 1,443 healthcare workers have received counselling services in the last four months. This counselling service is currently operational in 16 districts of the country. Through this web-based platform, subscribers can register and schedule appointments with the help of icddr,b field staff.

This initiative has been funded by the UNFPA and the USAID, with technical support from the Clinical and Counselling Psychology Department, University of Dhaka under the leadership of the Noncommunicable Diseases Centre (NCDC), Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). 

Initially, six webinars were organised between September 2020 to November 2020 to disseminate mental health-related information which were conducted by professional clinical psychologists from the Clinical and Counselling Psychology Department. A pool of counsellors was developed comprising graduates from the Department of Clinical Psychology. Senior professors Dr Muhammad Kamruzzaman Mozumder, Mosammat Nazma Khatun and Kamal Uddin Ahmed have been providing their technical inputs regularly.

icddr,b field staff distributed education and awareness materials in the selected hospitals of the 16 districts, which included 360 copies of NCDC developed guidebook on mental health and Covid-19, 1,600 posters and 20,000 leaflets. These materials have significantly increased mental health awareness among hospital patients, health care workers, attendants, and the general people.

On 22 September 2021, icddr,b organised a virtual dissemination workshop to share the achievements of this initiative of strengthening mental health. The workshop was chaired by  Dr Robed Amin, Line Director of NCDC, DGHS. Representatives from the DGHS, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), World Health Organization (WHO), University of Dhaka, Shuchona Foundation, USAID and icddr,b were also present at the workshop. Ms Aniqa Tasnim Hossain, Research Investigator at MCHD, icddr,b presented on the topic titled “Strengthening mental health service delivery to Covid-19 patients and healthcare workers through an online platform.”

In his concluding remark, Dr Robed Amin congratulated icddr,b for introducing this new platform and stressed the importance of scaling it up to enable more people to have access and be benefited. Dr Golam Rabbani, Professor, Faculty of Postgraduate Medical Sciences and Research, University of Dhaka, suggested including this support in the general health services. Dr Bidhan Ranjan Podder, Director, NIMH advocated that this platform should operate beyond Covid-19 context for all people who may have mental health care needs. Dr Ahmed Ehsanur Rahman, Associate Scientist at MCHD, icddr,b discussed the importance of the sustainability of this initiative mentioning that this initiative should be made accessible to more people beyond district hospitals. Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed, Associate Professor, NIMH. Dr Ashish Kumar Saha, Ex-Director, Management Information System, DGHS also congratulated the project team for the successful execution of the platform.