The quarantine imposed by COVID-19 involves drastic changes in habits and puts people in isolation or forced coexistence. Critical situations boost psychosis or bring out primitive mechanisms of defence. Indeed, studies already conducted in Australia and Taiwan have revealed mental problems such as post-traumatic stress, acute depression, significant increases in irritability, insomnia, anxiety and apathy, a mix that facilitates explosions of violence against weak subjects such as women, children and disabled people.
In addition, this health emergency created a second social group: those who continue to go to work but now under extreme psychological pressure and with the fear of getting sick or inadvertently infect those around them (e.g. health professionals, supermarkets cashiers, prison guards). The circumstances in which these two categories experience the emergency are diametrically opposite (one group is forced to stay at home, the other group is forced to go to work), but both situations have a strong impact on mental health and well-being. Multiple and diverse circumstances have been being created and these need to be addressed with the same dedication that governments have been demonstrating in fighting COVID-19. On top of the enormous economic difficulties that countries will have to face once the virus emergency is over, the government will also have to deal with mentally tested people. People with mental distress cannot contribute to boost again the EU economy and we will soon need this.
What it does
The mobile app Talk2Me would be an umbrella solution . There are indeed several initiatives to protect mental health, but they are often limited to a city or a region. We need a tool that can provide a service to the entire country, a centralised system but managed at regional level. The app would therefore be adapted on countries’ features (federal state or republic etc) and would be useful to provide psychological support no matter where the person seeking help lives.
The app would act on national level (i.e. Italian psychologists offer support to people living in Italy). The main stakeholders would be psychologists that already passed the national qualifying examination and university students currently enrolled in the psychology course (both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees). On the one hand, this system would allow psychologists to continue their professional training despite the lock down and to reach the number of credits expected per year / three-year period. On the other hand, students would be able to carry out their internship, or part of it, with mentor supervision so as they can finally collect all the credits they need to graduate. Since the service should be free of charge to the user, psychologists would not be remunerated but the activity would be recognised and appreciated in forms of credits and as a tremendous valuable experience.
How I built it
I tried to launch a prototipe using the software MIT App Inventor.
Challenges I ran into
I do not have advanced IT skills, but I started my application on my own with the support of tutorials available online. Besides my limited IT ability, the app brings with itself a lot of challenges that would need to be properly addressed (connection with national registry of psychologists, with universities and students, registration system to record the hours, personal profile for each user, GDPR, etc).
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
In this quarantine I am diving into topics new to me because I am curious by nature. I therefore started searching for tutorials to create an app, or at least to draft it. I am pround of my proactivity and the passion that I put in everything I believe in, and I believe in the European Union. With this tool, I put into practice the principles of Health is in All Policies and that Nobody shall be left behind.
What I learned
Surely a team made up of people with different skills is fundamental for achieving tangible results, but if you truly believe in something you can go beyond your own limits.
What's next for Talk2Me
- Some channels of discussion with Italian Ministries are already open.
- Find technical expertise to make this tool a reality and a success. The app needs to be tailored on the different category of patients and on different circumstances. To reduce the load of information on the database, a website could be created to report the most common mental health conditions along with the most effective one-size answers.
- EU Governments should recognise the app as an offical tool through which psychologists can get their credits as part of their professional development plan, and Universities should recognise to students the time spent on this service as hours needed to complete the traineeship before graduation.
- It is important to have a solid foundation for GDPR because nobody should be identified and data should be safely stored in official, national databases.
- Once the national databases are set, information could be shared at EU level to better identify therapies and start considering mental health with an EU approach rather than on national or even regional/local level
Talk2Me would continue to be effective even after the pandemic to tackle some unpleasant situations such as domestic violence, physical abuse and other types of violence. This tool can be a powerful instrument to quickly put in contact the victim with women’s shelters and police station.