TELEMEDICINE: MENTAL HEALTH
“Mental healthcare is largely unaddressed worldwide”
Exclusive Interview with Sushil Eapen Founder and CEO of Silver Oak Health
BY ABHISHEK PRASAD
Launched in 2015, Silver Oak Health is an innovative product firm founded by Sushil Eapen, Saravanan Neel and Paul McKeown (UK) to deliver online mental health services using evidence-based digital intervention products. The company strives to be a global provider of online mental health services using online therapy and digital Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) products.
What makes Silver Oak Health a preferred choice for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program?
Silver Oak Health uses research in Cognitive Science to solve mental health, behavioural, learning and neuropsychological problems. The company has developed an innovative and scientifically-proven online program called Stress Control Online www.stresscontrolonline.com that helps people develop coping skills to solve behavioural challenges like anxiety and depression. Using cognitive science and technology, the company aims to be a world leader in helping people achieve their full cognitive potential. Silver Oak Health uses intellectual property from best known Clinical Psychologists and research institutions around the world to develop digital products in India, and provides affordable solutions to customers worldwide. Silver Oak Health hopes to touch the lives of millions of people in India and rest of the world and help them achieve high quality of life.
Mental healthcare is largely unaddressed worldwide, particularly in developing countries. Depression is ranked only next to heart
disease as the leading healthcare challenge in most countries, including India. These challenges are likely to increase over the years due to pressures related to job, relationships, finances and urban migration. Mental health problems affect people of all ages – from children, adults and geriatric population. While treatments are available for mental health problems, due to social stigma and lack of awareness, many do not reach out to professionals. In India, there is a severe shortage of mental health professionals, and most of the trained professionals in clinical psychology, speech and language therapy as well as occupational therapy are concentrated in urban areas, leaving a shortage in other parts of the country.
Online psychological services market is expected to do well in the coming years due to the discreet nature, convenience and affordable delivery of services. Silver Oak Health has taken the route of creating digital products like the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that people can use to learn the skills required to cope with behavioural challenges like depression. Therapist services are wrapped around the product to ensure that people take the program to completion, at the convenience of their homes. This type of solution offers scale, where one therapist can assist hundreds of patients, as opposed to the current face-to-face therapy model that can cater to a limited number of people in need of assistance.
In India, Silver Oak Health is offering an 8-week therapist assisted program at an affordable price of Rs. 4000. The company will initially focus on the emerging markets where there is significant need for such solutions.
Tell us about the Stress Control Online Programme. What makes Silver Oak Health stand out of the competition?
Stress Control Online is India’s first Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that was specifically designed for our population. The company signed an agreement with Dr. Jim White, one of UK’s best known Clinical Psychologist to convert a proven, evidence-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy program called Stress Control into a digital product to help people that are facing mild to moderate stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorder. This is an 8-week online program that people would log in and experience at home with the support of trained therapists using phone communication. The cloud based CBT product that we have developed is available for use on computers and various mobile devices. The product is designed for use with normal internet speeds that are typically available in India. The solution has been localized to suit the urban India population. The product is designed for easy localization into other languages worldwide.
How difficult it is to achieve a desired level of acceptance of online program by society, patients, specialists and administrators?
There are major challenges in educating customers in countries like India about intervention programs like the online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy when most people would not even realize that they are experiencing a behavioural health challenge. With sustained marketing effort, we will educate the market, and show value in the form of convenience,
affordability and discreet nature of online services. More and more people in India are reaching out to professionals for help but with limited numbers of trained mental healthcare professionals in the country, people will consider online services as a convenient alternative. We also believe that corporate employees will be the early adopters of online solutions. Employee usage will help spread the positive message about the ease and quality of the online CBT that would further fuel the demand for products across the country. Lack of consumption of mental healthcare is the leading issue in this business and there will be challenges for the early movers. Face to face therapy for behavioural health challenges have been in existence for decades, but it has not solved the challenges of large section of the society, even in developed countries. We believe that digital transformation that changed many other businesses will also change healthcare where people will accept digital solutions that offer many advantages like convenience, lower prices and access to better solution and services, wherever they are located.
As part of educating the general public of stress and its reactions, Silver Oak Health has launched a free Health related Quality of Life assessment (silveroakqol.org) in India. A large number of people across the country have taken this assessment, and we are engaging and educating them about stress and how to cope with it. The assessment provides overall score and a percentile score of their health related quality of life in relation to others that have taken the assessment in the country. In addition, the users will be given feedback about the impact of stress on health in general. As the data increases we will be able to perform analytics and predict who among these people are likely to be at
risk for health issues due to stress. By providing early warning to such high risk candidates, we are able to recommend changes in lifestyle as well as suggestions to improve coping skills through Stress Control Online.
Mental illness is not covered by health insurance. What are your viewpoints on this?
Despite the fact that the cost of untreated mental illness, when measured against the loss of productivity is relatively small, mental health is widely left out of most health insurance coverage in our country. It is widely accepted that some of the leading causes of disability worldwide are because of mental health challenges. A recent study by NIMHANS has revealed that nearly 150 million people in India need mental healthcare interventions out of which less than 30 million people receive care. While there are other factors, affordability is an important reason people cannot access mental healthcare.
On a positive note, the Mental Healthcare Bill that was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2016 guarantees a right of affordable, accessible and quality mental health care and treatment from mental health services run or funded by Central and State governments. This is a welcome step in the direction of eventual coverage by insurance companies. Insurance coverage will facilitate medical care for people facing various mental challenges, and benefit the society in the long-term.