Emergency and Voluntary Online Psychotherapy: Why should you consider it?
Brazilian Psychologists Online (Psicólogos Brasileiros Online) Project
You might agree that mental health is crucial to our well-being and overall happiness. No one wants to be unhappy and unable to enjoy life. For Brazilians living abroad, one big challenge is to deal with the feeling of loneliness and nostalgia, as well as experiencing a hard time adapting to the new environment in which they have settled.
If you have a friend suffering from depression, our great advice is: don’t leave them alone: they need support and guidance. To discuss mental health and well-being, what it feels like to live abroad, and to guide you on how to receive help or help someone going through this stage, we interviewed the founders of the project “Psicólogos Brasileiros Online”, Brazilian Psychologist, Ana Lúcia Gonçalves, Brazilian Lawyer, Celma Hellebust, and the multidisciplinary team involved Dimara Devera and Lúcia Bocardo Batista Pinto.
In the first part of this interview, they explain the idea of creating this free online group to offer psychological support and how it works and also share some mental health tips that are worth reading.
Q: What inspired you to create “Psicólogos Brasileiros Online”?
In early 2020, when the first cases of Covid-19 emerged in China, it quickly became clear that our compatriots stranded abroad were living in a very delicate situation. The feeling was of impotence, fear, and concern about the virus, which could even break through geographic barriers. A “key turned” inside me in the first week of April when I decided that I should do something special during the pandemic, but I still didn’t know what I could do or for whom. That same week, I found the psychologist Ana Lúcia Gonçalves on my social media who provided online psychological care. I asked if she would like to voluntarily assist Brazilians who were in a vulnerable situation in the Arctic. She promptly accepted the invitation and defined that the audience that would be served, in that pandemic context, would be Brazilians who were outside the country. She formed a group with four fellow psychologists, who also graduated from USP in Ribeirão Preto (SP), to start this project. We quickly realized, through official information, that the demand would be great, as there were Brazilians in need of help in different parts of the world. In this way, a larger team was formed, with approximately 80 professionals, the “Psicólogos Brasileiros Online”, which also has two psychiatrists, an infectious disease specialist, and professionals in the area of Law, including me.
The project received support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its dissemination to Brazilian consular offices around the world and also on its social networks. This partnership with Itamaraty is restricted to publicizing the project to Brazilians in other countries.
Q: How does the project work? How do people access the services of online psychologists?
Psychologists, psychiatrists, infectious disease specialists, and legal professionals (including Celma Hellebust) actively participate and share tips on social media networks. The project goes beyond individual care, and people can search for information posted on social media channels or participate in real-time sessions.
Appointments are scheduled using a messaging application, in which a first screening is carried out and the referral is made to the professional who will handle the case. Both contacts with the group and scheduled appointments have been available 24 hours a day, every day of the week, since the beginning of the project.
Interactions between psychologists and patients via video calls are authorized and regulated by the CFP and Ordinance n. 16, March 2020. All information is treated confidentially and securely, respecting the area’s Code of Ethics. In addition to the professional’s care with the security and privacy of information, it is also necessary for the patient, preferably, to use their equipment in a private and reliable connection.
Q: How do you ensure the quality and professionalism of the psychologists participating in the project?
With great commitment, qualified professionals were added to embrace the project at a time when empathy and resilience were and are essential. Thus, the “Psicologistas Brasileiros Online” has been serving a specific audience, with many positive results. With that, this project showed me that regardless of where I am, I can help people with my personal and professional resources. Periodically, online training and recycling sessions for the group took place on the most diverse subjects relevant to the context of the pandemic. In addition, the group comprises specialists with vast experience in face-to-face and remote assistance, which is an instrument of quality assurance.
Q: How can an online service be a good solution for those seeking mental health help?
Videoconferencing has proven to be an efficient tool when applied by health professionals. With videoconferencing, communication between the patient and a psychotherapist is possible in real-time, through a television, computer monitor, tablet, or smartphone. Telepsychology is crucial to the delivery of psychological services more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is unlikely to change as psychologists and patients alike continue to increasingly appreciate the value of this type of care.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that by 2030 depression will be [N1] the second leading cause of disability in individuals, preceded only by ischemic heart disease. The International Digital Mental Health Network (IDMHN) considers that “in the context of improving access to care and quality of services, WHO recommends […] the use of electronics and mobile health technologies”. Videoconferencing has proven to be an efficient tool when applied by health professionals. With videoconferencing, communication between the patient and a psychotherapist is possible in real-time, through a television, computer monitor, tablet, or smartphone. Telepsychology is crucial to the delivery of psychological services more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is unlikely to change as psychologists and patients alike continue to increasingly appreciate its value (Hellebust CR, Barros V, Gonçalves AL. Brazilians in the arctic: a global experience with mental health during the covid-19 pandemic [Internet]. The Arctic Institute – Center for Circumpolar Security Studies. 2020 [citado 15 de janeiro de 2023]. Available: https://www.thearcticinstitute.org/brazilians-arctic-global-experience-mental-health-covid-19-pandemic/).
Q: How have people responded to the project so far? Have you seen any positive impacts on the mental health of those using the services?
Although the consultations are confidential, so we cannot share testimonials, we had several positive feedbacks about the project in general. We even received a very emotional video of a patient who returned to Brazil. The success in dealing with this case was only possible thanks to the joint involvement of the project team with members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Q: What are the 4 mental health tips you can give to someone who is suffering, or know someone who is suffering, from depression or other mental health issues?
- Look for Mental Health professionals;
- Always seek a support network (in-person and virtual);
- Seek to practice activities that promote mental health, such as physical activities, group activities, cultural activities, good eating habits, and sleep hygiene, among others;
- In case of suicidal ideation, seek immediate care at local health services. It is important to emphasize that people at risk, with suicidal thoughts or other serious cases, should seek the nearest hospital or other local emergency services. Minors are only assisted with express authorization from parents or guardians.
Q: What sets this project apart from other mental health resources that are available for Brazilians living abroad?
The “Psicológos Brasileiros Online” offers emergency and voluntary assistance, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by a multidisciplinary team. The project has contributed on a large scale to the improvement of mental health. There are more than 80 professionals who, to date, have served Brazilians in more than 40 countries. “Psicologistas Brasileiros Online” remained active even after the pandemic for other humanitarian causes, such as when the explosion in Beirut and the war in Ukraine occurred, for example.
Q: How can people get involved in supporting or participating in the project?
The project seeks partnerships for its dissemination on social networks to promote the greatest possible reach. Contact can be made directly with the project team by email (email@example.com) or at http://psicologosbrasileirosonline.com (website in Portuguese).
In the second part of the interview, they explain two new projects that are being developed to address essential issues: domestic violence and the serious risks to mental health and well-being posed by climate change.
Click here to read the second part: Would you (or someone you care about) like to talk?
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