From Telehealth to Teletherapy, Digital Apps Boost Mental Wellness in Emerging Markets

The rising popularity of mental health apps in recent years represents the coupling of two separate healthcare trends: an increased focus on mental and emotional well-being and a shift towards remote appointments.

In Africa, several startups that specialize in delivering remote therapy solutions are emerging onto the scene to provide resources and improve the mental well-being of local populations.

Learn more: eHealth Startups Making Moves Across Africa

Egyptian mental health company Shezlong, for example, recently announced that it would be expanding its service to South Africa under the banner of a new platform — Upright — as part of efforts to “reach marginalized populations who are underserved by the [local] health system,” the firm noted in a press release.

The company cited South Africa’s high rate of gender-based violence, lack of adequate care during pregnancy and unemployment as among the factors that affect the mental health of locals.

The new platform will replicate the model already established in Egypt, where users of the Shezlong app are able to choose from a network of qualified psychiatrists, therapists and counselors and book remote appointments via video, audio, or web chat on a pay-per-appointment basis.

Beyond Mental Illness

One of the popular points raised in the contemporary discourse on mental wellness is the idea that seeking help shouldn’t be reserved for the worst cases of mental illness.

Against that backdrop, concepts such as mindfulness and well-being underpin a growing recognition that mental health is for everyone, with firms like Shezlong offering resource libraries that cover a range of topics, from relationships to addiction.

Panda, another mental health app available in South Africa, blurs the line between treatment and self-help. As well as providing access to remote, one-on-one therapy sessions, app users can join “the Forest” — a digital space where they can anonymously connect with experts or peers facing similar challenges and participate in live, audio-only sessions covering a wide variety of mental health-related topics.

Towards the west of the continent, Nigeria, one of the region’s largest economies, has also given rise to several mental health apps in recent years.

In addition to providing appointments with English-speaking experts, local app MyCareBuddy offers a multilingual mental health platform through its iRant service, expanding access to Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, and Pidgin English speakers who have been underserved by the existing Anglocentric healthcare system.

The iRant system operates in parallel with MyCareBuddy’s formal psychiatric appointment system and offers a more informal opportunity to “unburden your mind and share your everyday struggles,” according to the firm.

In a bid to create healthier workplaces that prioritize employees’ mental and emotional well-being, MyCareBuddy has also branched out into mental health training for organizations.

Another Nigerian mental health startup, Akoma Health, is also partnering with employers to create custom mental health programs and connect its teletherapy service to those who need it. And by prioritizing early intervention and day-to-day well-being, Akoma Health hopes to empower employers to be more proactive in addressing issues around employee mental health.

Overall, through affordable, flexible mobile-first healthcare solutions, these digital platforms and technologies are helping to meet the growing demand for mental health services across Africa and are ultimately contributing to strengthening primary healthcare in the region’s emerging markets.

Further reading: Tech Makes Health Insurance Affordable, More Accessible in Emerging Markets


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