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Improving Mental Health through Healthcare CX

By: Katie Wallace, Asst. Vice President, Ugam (Now Merkle)
The concept of normal is powerful. It is so powerful that even the idea of a “new normal” is now commonly applied to address big societal shifts. However, in mental health, applying the term normal can be a debilitating notion that isolates and stigmatises. It leads to feelings of shame and perceptions of brokenness or being different in unacceptable ways. It is essential to meet such feelings with deep empathy. Cultivating this empathy to empower the person and change the healthcare infrastructure is the heart and soul of the healthcare customer experience (CX).
Healthcare CX has an impressive set of methods and tools which can help reduce stigma, build awareness, and mobilise efforts towards improved mental health. Embedding CX methodologies and practices can generate societal empathy for mental health and build a better human experience, making mental health for all a reality.

Mental Health in India

The onset of COVID-19 has posed a plethora of challenges, and among them has been the rise in mental health issues. A World Health Organization (WHO) study revealed that 7.5% of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental disorder, forming nearly 15% of the mental, neurological and substance abuse disorders globally. The heightened mental health problems in India affecting people of all ages have reached levels where 0.8% of the total health budget is being directed towards mental health services (US $88 million).
It’s essential to be aware of and track these statistics to understand the prevalence of mental health issues in India. But it is easy to focus too long on just the numbers and get desensitised to what’s most important—the human aspect. Experience management methodologies, specifically those within customer experience (CX), can bring back the humanness within the data.

The Human-Centered Approach: Treat the person, educate the people

While overall attitudes regarding mental health appear to improve, a study by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) revealed that stigma inhibits nearly 80% of those afflicted from receiving treatment, despite being ill for over 12 months. Feelings of shame and stigma are compounded by a lack of awareness of varied mental health conditions and the support needed for them. This calls for a need to normalise mental health. Mental health services are most effective when they take a human-centred, recovery-oriented approach to provide quality care, and educate the public on the types of mental illnesses that could impact their friends, family, and colleagues.
Experience management best practices follow a listen-understand-act framework:
1) Listen to patients individually and collectively as a society.
2) Understand patient feelings across their mental health journey, such as their hopes and dreams for the future
3) Act by identifying areas of improvement, and enable patients to feel in control of their plan and progress
Patient experience requires balancing the moments that matter across the healthcare journey and delving into socio-cultural factors to determine correlations and causes for the increase in mental disorders. Holistic CX methodology involves more than measuring satisfaction with an experience, service, or person.
In tandem, it is essential to reduce the fear of mental health conditions through targeted awareness efforts. This includes education on the broad differences across acute and chronic mental illnesses and instruction on how best to support and build community inclusiveness through active empathy.

Understanding and acting on crucial needs

Well-executed CX requires a laser focus on positive outcomes grounded in deep layers of empathy. It takes a human-centred approach to:
1) Understand both the broad and nuanced mental health issues
2) Capture the negative emotions
3) Create the positive emotions necessary along the journey
4) Set the appropriate success factions
5) Measure the leading (reduce stigma) and lagging (awareness) indicators of success
CX also aids in shifting the focus from secondary and tertiary behaviours to a more primary emphasis so that actions are taken on the root causes.
CX incorporates a blended approach to mitigating and managing immediate constraints with long-term strategies. When applied to mental health support and patient experience (PX), its human-centred approach focuses on enabling and empowering people to make informed decisions about their care. The healthcare provider should guide people along their mental health journey and not dictate, coerce, or force treatments. The key is to create an environment of trust and empowerment between the patient and the provider:
– Trust that the provider has considered their needs and feelings
– Empowerment in having the necessary information to make decisions
To create an environment of trust and reduce patient anxiety, ongoing cost transparency is essential. The LiveLoveLaugh study on How India Perceives Mental Health 2021 found that the areas other than stigma preventing individuals from accessing treatment and support were lack of access due to socio-economic conditions and concerns with expensive treatments. CX best practices include transparency as a guiding principle, mainly since healthcare costs can be especially complex.
PX should also promote community inclusion and relationship-based support to reduce isolation and strive to build a bridge across socioeconomic divides. These approaches are needed to focus on overall well-being rather than just symptom reduction. PX principles can provide needed frameworks to normalise the type of mental health support that leads to long-term outcomes.
The first step to applying CX fundamentals to patient experience (PX) is taking a co-creation approach to ensure that mental health services are accessible to all.  It should be as simple as ordering delivery or take out, but is that experience genuinely available to all?
To drive PX outcomes, it is crucial all people are represented in developing accessible services. The only way to guarantee easy access to healthcare is by ensuring straightforward steps and clear communication throughout every touchpoint, collecting feedback, and applying the learnings to improve experiences.

Measuring success

Employing healthcare CX methods and best practices in mental health will humanise and generate empathy across cultures. Without CX, it will be an ongoing challenge to address the root causes impacting awareness. It would be difficult to enable people and groups to neutralise stigma and shame effectively or to normalise mental health support across acute and chronic conditions. The listen-understand-act approach takes a holistic view to empower individuals across their journey and educate society on ways to be inclusive and supportive. When blended, empathy, inclusion, and empowerment can make the concept of ‘normal’ powerful for all globally.
Disclaimer: This media release is auto-generated. The CSR Journal is not responsible for the content.
Katie Wallace, Asst. Vice PresidentKatie has over 15 years of experience in Experience Management, Human-Centered Research, Change Management, and Process Improvement. She is an experienced leader who builds relationships with clients and teams to help design strategies, execute roadmaps, and achieve measurable value. Katie holds a Masters of Art in Intercultural/International Communication from the School of International Service, American University.