Digital apps boost mental health in Africa

The growing popularity of mental health apps in recent years represents a coupling of two separate healthcare trends: an increased focus on mental and emotional health, and a shift toward remote appointments.

In Africa, many startups specializing in providing telemedicine solutions have emerged on the scene to save resources and improve the mental well-being of local people.

Learn more: E-Health Startups Moving Across Africa

Egyptian mental health company Shezlong, for example, recently announced that it would expand its services to South Africa under the banner of a new platform – Upright – as part of efforts to “reach out to marginalized and underserved populations.” [local] health system,” the company noted in a press release.

The company cited a high rate of gender-based violence in South Africa, lack of adequate care during pregnancy and unemployment among the factors affecting the mental health of local residents.

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

Beyond mental illness

One common point made in contemporary mental health discourse is the idea that seeking help should not be limited to the worst cases of mental illness.

Against this background, concepts like mindfulness and well-being underpin the growing recognition that mental health is for everyone, with companies like Shezlong offering libraries of resources covering a range of topics, from relationships to addiction.

Panda, another mental health app available in South Africa, blurs the line between therapy and self-help. In addition to providing access to one-on-one remote therapy sessions, users of the app can join the “jungle” – a digital space where they can anonymously communicate with experts or peers facing similar challenges and participate in live audio-only sessions covering a variety of mental health topics.

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

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

iRant works in parallel with MyCareBuddy’s official psychological appointment system and provides a more informal opportunity to “empty your mind and share your daily struggles,” according to the company.

In an effort to create healthier workplaces that prioritize the mental and emotional well-being of employees, MyCareBuddy has also branched out into corporate mental health training.

Another Nigerian mental health startup, Akoma Health, is also partnering with employers to create customized mental health programs and connect a telemedicine service to those who need it. By prioritizing early intervention and everyday well-being, Akoma Health hopes to empower employers to be more proactive in addressing issues related to employees’ mental health.

Overall, through flexible and affordable mobile healthcare solutions, these digital platforms and technologies help meet the growing demand for mental health services across Africa and ultimately contribute to enhancing primary healthcare in emerging markets in the region.

In-depth reading: Technology makes health insurance affordable and accessible in emerging markets

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