Nov 27, 2020|

In-Depth Report: JDH’s Support for Mental Health During the Pandemic


by Kelly Dawson

JD Health, which will soon become a listed company at HKEX on December 8th, is a leading online medical and pharmacy provider in China. One of its focuses is its commitment to helping people with mental illness by setting up psychological support platforms, facilitating the building of internet departments for mental health specialties, and providing livestreams to disseminate relevant knowledge.

People working in lab for research

Even as the pandemic has been brought under control in China, the benefits of telemedicine (along with other online behaviors including online shopping and more) have proven to have staying power.

While the pandemic’s impact on public health and the global economy have been much publicized, a less discussed crisis is the effect it has had on mental health for millions worldwide. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the pandemic is negatively impacting the mental health of one out of two people—around 51% of respondents in a recent survey.

“The COVID-19 health crisis has exacerbated the psychological distress of millions of people already living through conflicts and disasters,” said ICRC’s director-general Robert Mardini in a recent statement. “Lockdown restrictions, a loss of social interaction, and economic pressures are all impacting people’s mental health and access to care.”

In recognition of these struggles, JD Health launched 24-hour free telemedicine consultations for mental health in January, as the pandemic accelerated in China. Shortly afterward JD Health introduced mental health and psychological services to a wider audience through integration within the JD app, facilitating easier access and resulting in a rapid increase in mental health consultations and subsequent paid appointments.

Since then, JD Health’s psychiatric telemedicine services have continued to expand. JD Health now offers telemedicine consultations and appointments with thousands of mental health experts all over China. This growth reflects an explosion in telemedicine services across China.

“During the epidemic, online consultation channels have become the preferred platform for consultation and treatment of mental illness and psychological disorders,” said Gaohua Wang, president of the Chinese Psychiatrist Association of the Chinese Medical Doctor Association (CMDA) at the organization’s annual meeting recently.


Addressing a public health problem

Although China is gradually settling into a post-COVID normalization of conditions, mental health remains a public health problem that cannot be ignored. Around 173 million people in China suffer from mental illness, of which 158 million have never received professional treatment, according to a report released by the Lancet. Among this group, 27.9% struggle with depression, and 31.6% suffer from anxiety, according to China’s National Research Center for Mental Diseases.

These efforts are in line with the Chinese government’s increased focus on mental health efforts, as stated in the National Mental Health Working Plan (2015-2020) and more recently, the Healthy China Action Plan (2019-2030), which aims to improve the country’s treatment rate of depression by 80% by 2030; and increase public awareness of mental health issues.

China currently faces a shortage of trained psychiatric and mental health professionals: While high-income countries like the US have an average of 13.06 psychiatrists and 23.49 psychiatric nurses for every 100,000 people, China has only 2.19 psychiatrists and 5.51 psychiatric nurses, according to China Daily. Additionally, mental health professionals tend to be concentrated in major cities.


Making mental health services more accessible

This is precisely where telemedicine services can fill a void, enabling anyone with an Internet connection to reach high-quality mental health experts via texting, phone or video call through JD’s app. Some of JD Health’s high-profile online doctors would require patients to travel to a major city to take advantage of their services. One example is renowned child psychologist Professor Zheng Yi.

“Mental health disorders are different from other diseases in that they do not require in-person testing for a diagnosis,” a JD Health representative said. “Diagnosis and treatment often rely most heavily on communication, which can happen just as easily online as it can in person.”

With JD health’s telemedicine services, patients can “meet” with experts from the comfort of home, at their convenience.


Combating stigma

One major benefit of taking psychiatric and counseling services online is the complete privacy and control it offers patients. In China, stigma around mental health remains prevalent.

“For many people struggling with mental health issues, the stigma can make them more reluctant to go to a hospital offline, especially a psychiatric hospital,” the JD Health rep said.

JD health’s telemedicine services offer complete confidentiality and eliminate the risk of encountering acquaintances in a public setting.


Convenience & affordability

Another factor is convenience: Overwhelmed and understaffed public hospitals can sometimes require a long wait, causing some patients to weigh the hassle and time spent against what they may believe to be more “minor” issues like insomnia or low-grade anxiety.

With JD Health’s telemedicine mental health services, customers can fill out preliminary questionnaires to hone in on potential issues and be directly connected with the most relevant services or doctors, cutting down on the overall time required. The questionnaire process was developed in cooperation with Peking University Sixth Hospital, based on the facility’s deep experience and expertise with mental health issues—just one example of JD Health’s cooperation with leading mental health hospitals and experts across China.

With the traditional offline model in the past, patients sometimes went to the initial appointments but struggled to justify the ongoing inconvenience, cost and time required to continue with in-person appointments. The JD Health model means that a patient can either bypass the first in-person visit entirely, or can start out in person and transition to telemedicine services to make ongoing treatment more sustainable in the long term if needed.

Online telemedicine services also offer a wider range of pricing, addressing another potential barrier for some patients. Customers can choose from more wallet-friendly experts, up to the most in demand doctors; and can opt to do lower-cost and less time-sensitive text messaging over the course of a day, or book time for a shorter phone or video call.

If a patient requires medication, JD Health makes it easy to order and receive medication, which can be delivered through JD’s reliable logistics network.


Raising awareness & supporting the industry

Another way in which JD Health is making mental health services more accessible and raising awareness is through various free livestream events that have been held throughout 2020, with doctors from leading mental health institutions like Beijing Huilongguan Hospital and others. Topics have included depression, autism, insomnia and more. During these events doctors have offered advice and answered questions related to maintaining stable mental and psychological health through the pandemic.

For the doctors and counsellors at JD Health, the transition online has also come with a learning curve. “There are a lot of doctors that were not entirely used to this system at first, but JD Health has provided online training both for the technical aspects and to ensure they feel comfortable communicating through this method,” said the JD Health representative.

JD is also helping offline hospitals expand their own telemedicine services. Leveraging JD’s advantages in big data, AI, smart supply chain and financial services, JD has supported institutions like Tianjin Mental Health Center and the Affiliated Brain Hospital of Guangzhou Medical University in going online.


Ongoing efforts

In recent months JD Health has established a public welfare platform for psychological counseling in Hubei province with support from the local government. JD Health has worked with community doctors in different areas to sign dedicated service contracts with patients recovering from the Coronavirus, offering personalized psychological counseling support.

In Wuhan, originally the epicenter of the pandemic, the after-shocks of the outbreak continue to reverberate. One director of a local community center reported that many recovered patients continue to live alone in fear of infecting loved ones, despite having long recovered.

JD also announced that it will build a national internet-based psychiatric hospital that will leverage high-quality treatment resources across the country.

As China moves forward with the ongoing normalization of post-COVID conditions, JD Health expects that telemedicine services for mental health will continue to play an important role in the country’s full recovery.

“Although the pandemic’s impact on people’s physical health has been regressing in China, we can only say that we have made a clean sweep in the arduous fight against the virus when we can help people sweep away their related psychological obstacles,” said Lijun Xin, CEO of JD Health.