A national tele mental health programme will be launched to provide better access to quality mental health counselling, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced in the budget.
This will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence (CoEs), with Bengaluru’s Nimhans being the nodal centre and International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIIT-B) providing technology support.
Since March 28, 2020, (four days after the first 21-day national lockdown was imposed), Nimhans has provided more than six lakh tele mental health consultations on its toll free number 080-46110007.
The Karnataka Mental Healthcare Management System or e-Manas, which is being used in the state, will eventually be used in these 23 CoEs too.
It maintains medical records, advanced directives and details of nominated representatives of patients, apart from a registry of mental health facilities and professionals and is linked to the mental health review board to address grievances.
Nimhans director Dr Prathima Murthy said, “As a nodal centre, we will be working with all the 23 CoEs. These are 23 departments of psychiatry which the union government has recognised as CoEs. They will form the resource pool to train counsellors, for each state to run the 24/7 helpline.”
They will monitor them, identify sites for the helpline and will also do operational research to see how well it’s working and what changes are needed in the rollout of this programme.
Counsellors will identify people with severe problems and emergency cases who immediately need to be referred to a specialised centre.
The CoE specialist will attend to calls that need immediate attention and advise patients on where to go.
The idea is that a state-dedicated helpline should be able to cater to queries in the official language exclusive to that state.
“Since we are a diverse country and the social contexts are different, these 23 CoEs are needed for building the local core capacity,” Prathima
Nimhans’ role is to conceptualise the programme, develop the training content, train the counsellors of CoEs and monitor the programme.
In 13 languages
Nimhans associate professor at the Centre for Psychosocial Support in Disaster Management Dr Jayakumar C told DH that the toll free number finds a mention in the health ministry’s website, the CoWIN portal and the counselling is available in 13 languages.
More than 650 doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counsellors and psychiatric nurses working in government hospitals across India (25 from Nimhans) are involved in the helpline.
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