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Telepsychiatry in Rural India

We've invited D. Kotteswara Rao, the Assistant Director of SCARF India, the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF India), a mental health center and nonprofit organization. Mr. Rao shares his experiences with telepsychiatry in rural India.

SCARF India has worked in the mental health field since 1984, when it was started by Dr. Sarada Menon, the first female psychiatrist in India, who recently passed away at age 99. The organization focuses on awareness, treatment, and rehabilitation for behavioral health of all ages- from youth to older adults. The organization has many focus areas, including research, education, and treatment. When SCARF first started nearly 40 years ago, they worked with schizophrenia because it is such a challenging condition that makes it very hard for people to live in the community and receive help. As their work progressed, the program developed additional programs to assist with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. They work toward dispelling the stigmas around mental health conditions by focusing on psychoeducation and awareness.

SCARF is an excellent example of an organization going above and beyond to provide services to people in India, including telepsychiatry. They work to collaborate on a local level with community leaders and nonprofit organizations. While location, finances, and fear interfere with people seeking services, SCARF has stepped in to help. For instance, they train volunteers to work with people in small, rural villages to help them understand their symptoms when to contact their providers for more care, and even reminders for upcoming meetings. Using telehealth, SCARF provides telepsychiatry via a videophone in remote areas. And, recognizing that even then, some people may not even be able to travel to the location where they can meet with someone via videophone, they also have a mobile psychiatry van that will go directly to those in remote areas in need of services. The mobile psychiatry van has several workers available and a psychiatrist attending via video call. They can provide psychoeducation, treatment, prescription, and follow-up services.

Recognizing the fear and distrust that can arise, SCARF cares about relationships with people. Rao states they seek to "educate, empower, and never force them to do anything." With this caring approach, they build good relationships with communities and individuals, which then helps spread the word-of-mouth reputation so that others are more likely to see them, too.

Mr. Rao notes that they care about adopting various methods to reach more people and teach them about mental health. This organization provides critical services and makes a tremendous impact.


 D. Kotteswara Rao is the Assistant Director of SCARF India, focusing on Community Mental Health. He's worked with SCARF for nearly twenty years and has been part of multiple programs addressing mental health needs, reducing stigma, and increasing collaborative working relationships across communities and organizations.

By: Megan E. O'Laughlin