On World Mental Health Day (10 October), the government rolled out its initiative Tele Mental Health Assistance and Networking Across States (Tele-MANAS) to provide free on-call affordable mental health services.
The facility, launched by Karnataka governor Thawar Chand Gehlot at the 26th convocation ceremony of graduates at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru, aspires to make mental health assistance available 24×7, especially for people in remote or under-served areas.
The national tele-mental health programme (NTMHP) was first announced by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Union Budget 2022-23.
“The pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages. To better the access to quality mental health counselling and care services, a ‘National Tele-Mental Health Programme’ will be launched,” she had said in February.
How will Tele-MANAS work? How did COVID-19 worsen the mental health crisis in the country?
Let’s take a closer look.
The Tele-MANAS programme consists of a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence, with NIMHANS as the nodal centre.
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bengaluru and National Health Systems Resource Centre (NHRSC) have been roped in for technical support.
As per Indian Express, the service will first be offered across 20 states and UTs and later expanded to the rest of the country.
Announcing the initiative, Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya wrote on Monday, “Good mental health with Tele MANAS! PM @NarendraModi Ji’s Govt launches ‘Tele Mental Health Assistance & Networking Across States’ to provide all access to affordable mental health care in every State/UT. It will serve as the digital arm of the District Mental Health Programme.”
Tele MANAS was announced in the Union Budget 2022.
The facility will integrate all systems that provide mental healthcare and go a long way in extending services to vulnerable groups of the population and difficult-to-reach regions. pic.twitter.com/NWZJUGWvFb
— Dr Mansukh Mandaviya (@mansukhmandviya) October 10, 2022
Currently, there are five regional coordination centres along with 51 state and Union Territories (UT) Tele-MANAS cells.
The Centre plans to gradually operate at least one Tele-MANAS cell in each state and Union territory across the country, reports PTI.
NIMHANS has conducted training for 900 Tele-MANAS counsellors from most states and UTs.
How will Tele-MANAS work?
The Tele-MANAS service can be accessed by calling the helpline numbers 14416 and 1-800-891-4416.
The services have been divided into two tiers. The first tier includes trained counsellors and mental health specialists.
The callers will first interact with a centralized Interactive Voice Response system (IVRS), after which they will be transferred to a trained counsellor in their respective regions, reports Indian Express.
If needed, they will be connected virtually to mental health specialists like clinical psychologists, psychiatric social workers, psychiatrists.
The second tier is in-person services which comprise specialists at District Mental Health Programme (DMHP)/Medical College resources for physical consultation and e-Sanjeevani for audio-visual consultation.
In case the caller requires in-person services, they will be recommended a health and wellness centre or a tertiary care centre, reports Indian Express.
India’s mental health crisis
The government’s tele-mental health services come at a crucial time when India is staring at a mental health crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As per a Lancet study published last year, India saw a 35 per cent rise in clinically significant depression and anxiety disorders due to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020.
The 2021 State of the World’s Children Report, says that one in seven youths in India, between 15 to 24 years, reported ‘feeling depressed’ during the pandemic.
In a study titled ‘National Tele-Mental Health Program in India: A step towards mental health care for all?’, Dr Rajesh Sagar, professor of psychiatry at AIIMS, notes that one in every seven persons in India is estimated to be suffering from a clinically diagnosable mental disorder.
The COVID-19 pandemic had significant negative effects on the mental health of the entire population, directly or indirectly, he said in the study.
In another concerning report, there was an increase of 7.2 per cent in reported suicides in the country in 2021 as compared to the year before, says the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.
“A total of 1,64,033 suicides were reported in the country during 2021 showing an increase of 7.2 per cent in comparison to 2020 and the rate of suicides has increased by 6.2 per cent during 2021 over 2020,” the NCRB said.
As per the 2021 statistics, ‘family Problems’ and ‘illness’ were the top two causes of suicides in the country. Drug abuse/ alcoholic addiction’, marriage-related issues, love affairs, unemployment, professional/career problem were also among the major reasons for suicide last year.
Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) notes that India has 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 nurses and 0.07 psychologists and 0.07 health workers for 1,00,000 population.
“These reflect alarming shortage of human resources and dire need to scale up investment to address the issue”, writes Dr Dalbir Singh, president of Policymakers’ Forums for Mental Health & Global Coalition Against TB, for Indian Express.
(A collection of suicide prevention helpline numbers are available here (aasra.info/helpline.html). Please reach out if you or anyone you know is in need of support. The All-India helpline number is: 022-27546669.)
With inputs from agencies
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.