The COVID-19 pandemic has had an extraordinary impact on economies and health systems around the world. But as people have struggled with the illness and death of loved ones, the loss of jobs and income, and the prospect of an uncertain future, a mental health crisis has also emerged that has overwhelmed mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services in many countries. Physical distancing measures have further restricted communities’ access to key services, creating additional obstacles.
Our team in Jordan, led by Country Director Dr. Ahmad Bawaneh, began to investigate ways to meet increasing mental health needs while mitigating the disruption to MHPSS services. Supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the team designed the Relax app—a unique platform that improves access to MHPSS services in Jordan and facilitates their in-person and remote delivery. International Medical Corps worked in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) to develop this innovative app, increase the capacity of those providing MHPSS services in Jordan and ensure that the platform and its messages are in line with the country’s COVID-19 strategies and objectives.
Relax was developed entirely in-house over the course of four months by our Health Systems Applications unit in Jordan. Based on trusted, evidence-based materials, Relax has three main purposes.
- First, the app aims to improve resilience among the community by raising awareness of MHPSS issues. It includes advice on how to cope with stressors during the pandemic, as well as information on common mental and neurological substance disorders and how to protect against COVID-19.
- Second, it aims to improve access to MHPSS services by helping vulnerable people overcome difficulties in accessing services, such as stigma and physical and financial barriers. The app provides contact information about and maps for all of our MHPSS clinics, as well as the number for a support hotline. It also includes a function that lets users make anonymous calls via the application. Trained operators are available around the clock to answer inquiries and link people with the nearest MoH clinics where we offer MHPSS services.
- Finally, it can help specialized and non-specialized healthcare providers strengthen their ability to provide more accessible MHPSS services to refugee communities and others throughout Jordan. Relax is designed to alleviate the shortage of highly specialized mental health staff in the country by delivering live or pre-recorded video and audio training. The app also includes a World Health Organization course on early mental health detection and intervention.
Using this app, International Medical Corps has already trained 50 non-specialist MoH staff about the Mental Health Gap Action Programme Intervention Guide (mhGAP-IG), which equips primary healthcare workers with the knowledge and skills they need to detect and manage clinical mental, neurological and substance-use disorders. We also have trained another 57 MoSD staff in mental health case management, early detection and intervention, enabling them to initiate proper cases management processes and referral if needed.
Although still in the early stages of implementation, with an iOS version also recently made available, the app has been celebrated by a number of key stakeholders in Jordan. In an interview with Al Ghad, a national newspaper, Director of the MoH’s Disability and Mental Health Directorate Dr. Malak Al-Ori said, “The application is a step forward in making mental health services available in Jordan. International Medical Corps is making leaps in improving mental health services, in cooperation with the ministry.”