HMS-led initiative to develop digital psychological well being coaching platform within the US and India | information
EMPOWER, the digital mental health training platform from a Harvard Medical School initiative, strengthened mental health care systems in both the US and India during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The initiative was launched in 2019 to address global mental health inequalities. The program curates an online curriculum to train mental health workers – including frontline and community health workers – to develop and deliver psychological therapies.
According to Anant Bhan, a senior investigator of the group’s activities in India, the initiative is training health workers there through educational modules, workshops and videos to expand local access to treatment for common mental illnesses, particularly depression.
“It’s more practical to actually have a lot of health care on the front lines,” said Bhan. “Of course you always need psychiatrists and psychologists, maybe with severe mental disorders etc., but many common mental disorders should ideally be treated at the community level.”
HMS Global Health Professor Vikram Patel, who leads the group, said in a June interview that he was motivated by his growing frustration over “uniquely unsuccessful” advances and “impossibly difficult barriers” in mental health care among disadvantaged populations in developing countries to help develop the initiative.
“The idea behind EMPOWER was to expand the innovative pathways that we know can overcome these barriers, which in large part also emerged from the Global South,” said Patel.
The group’s virtual training platform uses new technologies, including virtual and augmented reality and natural language processing, to train healthcare providers in a variety of evidence-based behavioral treatments.
The nonprofit medical school also hopes to expand its virtual training and interventions to health systems in countries outside of the United States and India, said John A. Naslund, member of the management committee and HMS instructor in global health and social medicine.
“The exciting thing about EMPOWER is that it builds on this foundation of work in India to try to scale this on a global scale – not just in one district and health system in one Indian state, but thinks about how we can do this in several states in India can do, ”said Naslund. “This is an essential aspect of our work, and then also in the health systems in the US and other countries.”
In June, the mental health initiative received part of a $ 10 million Lone Star Prize, a Texas-based competition created to fund efforts to build healthier communities and allow the initiative to expand its activities in Texas to expand and enlarge.
The digital format of the initiative has proven particularly successful in India, so that work can continue there in May despite the devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ravindra Agrawal, one of the initiative’s lead investigators in India, called EMPOWER’s digital work “Covid-proof”.
“Of course, if the entire focus was on face-to-face training, that would have stopped completely,” he added.
—Ariel H. Kim contributor can be reached at [email protected]
—Employee Anjeli R. Macaranas can be reached at [email protected]