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Rohit Shishodia

Remote counselling can manage 80% of mental health problems

Over 80% of the people facing mental health issues need not require to visit a professional for help as remote counselling can alleviate their symptoms, says,  Dr Om Prakash, Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), New Delhi while expressing concern over very few people seeking counselling through recently launched tele-helpline numbers Tele-Manas numbers -14416 and 1-800-91-4416.

The Union Health Ministry launched the initiative on October 10, 2022, to provide free tele-mental health services all over the country around the clock.

Since its launch, the helpline center at IHBAS has received 1152 calls as on January 25, 2023.

Speaking to Drug Today Medical Times, Dr Om Prakash said that the media needs play a pivotal role in spreading awareness about the Tele-Manas as it has a deep-rooted presence among the masses.

“We are facing two types of challenges, first, how a patient can access mental healthcare and second, how mental health services can be made available to patients. However, it is a two-way communication,” Dr Prakash said.

 "We are making an effort through Tele-Manas to how we can reach patients. There are many factors behind patients not seeking counselling or treatment in hospitals, including stigma, busy schedules and lack of resources (financial constraints)," he added.

While speaking about the Tele-Manas project, Dr Prakash said, “It has the potential of revolutionising the mental healthcare system in the country if we are successful in spreading this number (14466 ) to everyone and if they know where to seek help or call when they feel tense, it will help millions of people.”

Dr Prakash pointed out that it is said that there is a shortage of psychiatrists in India, but the reality is that the psychiatrists are today available on call, and the entire team of IHBAS is available round the clock, but unfortunately, they are receiving very few calls.

“If eligible people start seeking help through the Tele-Manas helpline, there would be a long waiting list. Hence, here the role of media comes as they have a deep-rooted presence to spread about the helpline,” he added.

“In fact, 80% of mental health issues can be managed by providing counselling over the phone. Merely 20% of people need to come to a hospital,” Dr Prakash asserted.

“In India, there are only 9,000 psychiatrists, and they cannot reach 150 crore people in person. We want those, who need psychiatric help, to come to the hospital," he added.

“People should be informed about how this facility works and how effectively and efficiently it operates. It is a toll-free number, and there is nothing wrong with dialling it instead of riding crowded buses to the hospital. Video calls could be the next step of the Tele-Manas initiative,” Dr Prakash informed  

Suicidal thoughts, stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, sadness, hopelessness, drug addiction, exam and medical-related issues, and doubtfulness are just a few of the topics covered by patients who call the Tele-Manas helpline.

“Tele-Manas is a new programme of the Government of India,” IHBAS director Prof Rajinder K Dhamija said of the programme.

It may be recalled that during her budget speech last year, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman announced the establishment of a Tele assistance service to address mental healthcare services, which were severely impacted by the COVID pandemic.

“IHBAS is also one of the five regional centres set up for providing Tele-Manas services. The institute is guiding Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat to roll out this program,” Prof Dhamija added.

 “IHBAS is also a mentoring institute and we provide mentoring, training and technical services to many centres in different states. Around 10% of India’s calls are being received by IHBAS and successfully running an IHBAS is playing a big role in it,” he explained.

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