BANGKOK — The recent suicide of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington got people talking about depression, mental health and where to find help in Thailand.
Those looking for a professional to talk to have a new way to do so without getting stuck in traffic and watching the paint peel in a waiting room.
Mental health care will be a swipe away with the launch later this month of telehealth app Ooca, which will offer virtual healthcare services via private video calls with experts.
The idea for Ooca came nearly two years ago when dentist Kanpassorn Suriyasangpetch was working in a rural area that only had one psychiatrist. She realized that access to proper mental health services in parts of the country is very limited.
With lingering social stigma over mental health issues, Ooca allows users to sign up anonymously. Once registered, they can select the prefered time and duration of their session. Patients can choose physicians according by speciality or let the platform decide which is most suitable.
The minimum charge is 300 baht for 15 minutes. Extended minutes are charged per minute and payment can be done with credit or debit cards.
Ooca follows the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA Compliance, a law protecting patients’ privacy and sensitive data. With its simple slogan “It’s okay. Let’s talk,” the platform offers services that users can consult anonymously with preferred nicknames. Only age and sex need to be provided.
“The idea is simply connecting the gap between patients and mental health providers through private secure video calls,” Kanpassorn said.
Ooca will launch on Android, iOS and a web version by the end of August. So far it has 900 registered users and nine mental health experts including psychiatrists and psychologists.
According to an annual report published by the Mental Health Department, more than 1.1 million patients nationwide sought mental health care at clinics and hospitals in 2016. The five most-reported issues are depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, intellectual disabilities and mental illness caused by substance abuse.
The application is expected to see use by those who would otherwise refuse to seek help due to the powerful social stigma that associates mental health issues with madness.
“The obstacle that limits people to health care access is ignorance, misconceptions and social prejudices,” said Squadron Leader Boonruang Triruangworawat, director of the Mental Health Department. “People with mental health issues are sometimes looked down on and considered to be attention seekers or weak and crazy.”
Kanpassorn said a lot of Thais believe that seeking mental health services is abnormal and that many are afraid to admit they need help.
“[It] seems as if mental health issues us far more acceptable in Western countries,” Kanpassorn said, mentioning that celebrities such as Prince William and Lady Gaga revealed their struggles with mental health to promote a World Health Organization campaign. “I want people to overcome this stigma, and those who need to talk and get help should be able to reach a mental health professional when they need to.”
Ooca is not the only medical app in Thailand helping patients access mental health care. Zeekdoc, founded in late 2016, enables users in Bangkok and Phuket to find specialists and doctors nearby and make appointments online. ChiiWii is a free medical consultant service in which patients’ health questions are answered by doctors and specialists.