What do you do when 80% to 90% of your population that has severe depression or anxiety never received adequate treatment? If you’re India with a strapped health budget, you do what you can with what you have.

In this case, a program financed by the Wellcome Trust has treated over 2,000 people in India with simply trained high school or college students who receive either a week of training to be a mental health screener assistant, or 3 months to be a mental health “counselor.”

Five days a week, the assistants screen almost every patient who arrives at the door. Pregnant women, minors and emergency cases are excluded. The screening is created for the program. It includes questions about physical symptoms, as well as emotional problems.

A patient meeting the criteria for mental illness is immediately sent to the health counselor, who provides a straightforward explanation of depression and anxiety and offers a range of treatments like talk therapy, yoga and, in conjunction with a doctor, antidepressant medication. Patients return every few weeks for follow-ups.

To put this in some context, a Master’s level counselor in the U.S. receives 2 to 3 additional years of education and training after a bachelor’s degree (4 years); a psychiatrist, 7 to 8 years of education and training; and a psychologist, 5 to 6 years of education and training.

A clinical trial is ongoing right now, so they don’t know if this program actually helps, hurts or does nothing for people with depression or anxiety. If you look at it as a glorified screening and psychoeducational intervention (similar to what we do here at Psych Central, which is very different than psychotherapy), it’s likely a helpful, beneficial program. But psychotherapy? No, I’d hazard to guess it’s not the same as what we would consider “psychotherapy.”

The New York Times has the story: Psychotherapy for All: An Experiment