Telepsychology: Canadian experience inspires remote mental health care in Brazil

Pandemic aggravated problems such as depression and anxiety, which had to be treated virtually, a model that Canada has been using since the 1990s

By Estela Cangerana

The silent pandemic of mental health disorders was amplified by COVID-19, which brought another barrier: the impossibility of specialized face-to-face care to patients. Anxiety and depression disorders, for example, grew vigorously. The data is alarming, but at the same time, the worsening situation also brought the opportunity to expand a system that can be very functional for Brazil in the post-confinement: the virtual psychological care. The model, which already works solidly in Canada, increasingly gains space here.

“We already knew that mental health would be a 21st century epidemic, but now, with coronavirus, this priority has greatly increased”, says Dr. Rogério Rabelo, coordinator of the CCBC Commission of Health Innovation and managing partner of Dalben Home Care. “Online access to support in this area is essential for the patient’s treatment”, he adds.

The virtual care has become the most viable alternative to minimize the distancing anxieties. “Humans are social beings, we need  interaction and connection with other people. Isolation generates an intense emotional and mental impact, and fear and anxiety increase. On the return to activities, we also observed a lot of fear, people with emotional disorders and increased cases of burnout, which is a mental and emotional exhaustion”, explains the psychologist and cybercounsellor certified by the University of Toronto Milene Rosenthal, co-founder of Telavita online psychotherapy platform. The startup is a pioneer in the sector in Brazil and has seen its demand multiply with the pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers depression the most disabling disease in the world and in Brazil, and since before the pandemic it has had a significant number of occurrences. There are almost 12 million people with the problem and, according to the WHO, only 10% of them seek help. This places Brazil as the country with the highest incidence of the disease in Latin America and the second largest in the Americas, only behind the United States.

In addition, Brazil is still considered by the WHO as the most anxious nation on the planet, with approximately 19.4 million people showing problems such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress and panic attack, among others.

Labor market

In the day-to-day life of companies, the impacts are great. If before the coronavirus depression was already the third largest reason for the absences of professionals in organizations, now the problem receives even more drastic contours. Offering psychological support – especially online for those in the home office – has become an essential element of the business.

“From May to June of this year, we observed a peak in use of aid services by our employees”, says country HR at Bombardier in Brazil, the psychologist Flavia Vieira. The company offers telepsychology in a preventive manner, as part of the medical care plan for employees and their families, added to other virtual initiatives. “Digitization has grown too much and telepsychology tools have been very well accepted. They’re here to stay.”

At Chelles & Hayashi Design agency, the use of digital instruments was also essential to the continuity of the work and the well-being of their employees. “Psychology in this robotization process meets the need for connection between people”, says the firm’s partner, Gustavo Chelles, recalling the Zulu saying that “one person is only oneself through other people”.


The virtual care in the mental health area that grows in Brazil follows a movement that started in Canada in the 1990s. The world’s first virtual clinic was created by a professor at the University of Toronto in 1994. And it is from there, also, the scientific work that proved the method effectiveness in 1998. The educational institution is, to this day, a global reference in the sector.

The method is applied throughout the country and offered free of charge by the Canadian government to its citizens. “In Canada, healthcare is 100% public and mental healthcare is included. The government recognizes that we are going through a mental health crisis and has created programs to meet this need of the population”, said the CEO and co-founder of GC5 Trading, the Brazilian Maria Carolina Hack, who lives in Canada.

Through the public portal Wellness Together a mental support 24 hours a day, at no cost, is offered to all citizens of the country. “I feel the government support very close to all of us, which is very important, especially for professionals who work in small businesses that do not have their own structure for this and expatriate people like me”, she concludes.

To learn more:

Rogerio Rabelo, Milene Rosenthal, Flavia Vieira, Gustavo Chelles and Maria Carolina Hack talked about the topic during the webinar Telepsychology: a Canadian innovation for Brazil, organized by the CCBC Commission of Health Innovation. To watch the full debate, click on