Local app Panda is looking to democratise access to mental health assistance, as South Africa observes World Suicide Prevention Day.
The day takes place internationally each year on 10 September and endeavours to increase awareness of suicidality, as well as to fight the stigma associated with suicide.
The Panda digital platform provides users with access to mental health information, community support and expert help.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group says there are 23 known cases of suicide in SA every day, and for every person that commits suicide, 10 have attempted it.
In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Alon Lits, co-owner and co-CEO of Panda, explained: “Our mission at Panda is to democratise access to mental healthcare. We hope to achieve this byreducing the main barriers which inhibit access to mental health support.”
Users can anonymously join daily, live and audio-only sessions on various topics in the Panda Forest feature, says the company.
“When a user logs into the app, they will see what sessions are lined up for the next few days. A library of mental health-related content (videos, articles, activities) can be accessed and worked through on demand.
“To better understand individual mental health journeys, screening assessments can be completed in the app, after which personalised feedback and suggestions for care are generated for each user,” said Lits.
Users can reach out to a primary mental health professional via the synchronous, text-based support functionality, which is available for eight hours daily, he added.
Mental health professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists can be accessed through the one-on-one virtual consultations via the booking functionality within the app.
Launched in 2019, the app was initially developed with the help of a dev house in Poland. Earlier this year, Panda moved all its development to its in-house team based in SA.
Although the company will start charging for its services in 2023, Lits says for now, users can benefit from the app free of charge.
Panda has gone on to partner with healthcare corporations such as Medscheme and Fedhealth, to create more access to healthcare workers on the platform.
Lits says the team has received great feedback from users who are benefiting from the app and that validation keeps the team motivated.
According to an opinion piece by Angela Vorster, clinical psychologist at the school for clinical medicine at the University of the Free State: “There are actually so many ways and places to receive healthcare and support; however, the most significant barrier to making use of these resources is sustained by the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness.
“Encourage the suicidal person to make contact with a healthcare professional – this can be a psychologist, general practitioner, psychiatrist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, counsellor or a suicide prevention help line.
“Other important members of our community who provide a great deal of assistance to suicidal people and their families include religious and spiritual leaders, teachers, support groups and employee assistance programmes,” Vorster adds.
ITWeb readers can access three free sessions by signing up using the promo code “ITWeb2022” before the end of the year.