Dr Anasuya Pattanayak
Professor & Head, Department of Community Health Nursing, Kalinga Institute of Nursing Sciences (KINS), KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, INDIA

The World Health Organization data shows India as one of the most depressed nations of the world. What’s worse, the number of mentally disordered people is projected to multiply in the coming decades. When the World Happiness Report 2022 reveals that mental illness is not only eating into the vitals of India in terms of happiness, quality of life, and productivity of its workforce, the World Economic Forum projection 2030 shows how mental illness is costing the national economy trillions of dollars. While several socio-cultural, political, economic, and environmental factors, besides the decline in the function of religion as a balancing force, are responsible for poor mental health in India, as elsewhere, poor mental healthcare infrastructure and the dearth of trained professionals are quite appalling. Not only there is an acute shortage of mental health professional (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists, and medicine doctors who can treat mental health disorders) but also most of the people suffering mental health disorders do not seek, let alone receive, institutional therapy available in hospitals and clinics. Factors such as social stigma attached to mental illness, lack of access to professional help and/or affordability have put India in a state of mental health crisis even after the implementation of the Mental Health Care Act 2017 since 2018. However, e-health services and mental health apps (MHApps) using artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have come forward to provide alternative mental healthcare in India. This study concludes that the AI-enabled mental healthcare services and tools that are endowed with features like anonymity, no-space barrier, ease of use, flexible-timing, and affordability have emerged to be more reliable in India than the face-to-face traditional therapy. Case studies of several online services platforms and apps have been presented in this work to demonstrate how AI-powered evidence-based psychotherapies including CBTs, chatbots, virtual reality (VR) apps, and stress-busting computer/mobile games are increasingly becoming popular in India. It is found that customers of mental healthcare consider computerized self-help intervention as the best option. This paper concludes that the AI-enabled health services and applications, blessed with their scalability, will bridge the infrastructural and services gap both quantitatively and qualitatively and ensure universal mental healthcare in India by 2030.

Keywords: Digital health, Digital mental health, Digital mental healthcare, Mental healthcare in India, MHApps