Dr Pratima Murthy, the Director and Senior Professor of Psychiatry, at the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, recently talked about how the world has become acutely aware of the need to treat mental health conditions along with physical ailments.
In her address during the 26th annual convocation of Dr. YSR University of Health Sciences, Andhra Pradesh, she mentioned that in society, traditionally, mental health has been accorded a lower position as compared to physical health. She went on to say that however, these priorities are misplaced. According to the 2016 National Mental Health Survey, every one in ten people has a diagnosable mental health condition.
She also talked about how about 150 million Indians need support for their mental health problems. Along with common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders, even severe mental health conditions that are associated with premature mortality and lifelong disabilities continue to be overlooked. The NIMHANS director further expressed concerns about the loss of valuable human lives because of increasing instances of suicide amongst all sections of the population – the elderly, the youth and adults, and even adolescents.
Read More: Suicide Awareness: Unveiling the Truth
She especially expressed remorse at the high rate of suicides amongst those pursuing higher education amongst medical trainees and stated that it needs to be addressed urgently. She also mentioned how with increased longevity in current times, dementia is another source of concern, which needs to be looked into. Dr. Pratima especially mentioned how after the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has become acutely aware of mental health troubles, their severity, and the immediacy with which they should be treated.
The difficult conditions throughout the pandemic such as isolation from the larger society, sense of purposelessness due to suspension of schools and workplaces, anxiety regarding the state of the world, and constant encounters with illness, hospitalisation, and deaths and the resultant grief, have taken a great toll on the mental health of people. Even individuals with robust mental health before the pandemic hit, have run into serious problems and have been unable to cope with the stress, anxiety, and depressive feelings it brought with itself.
A positive consequence, however, according to Dr Pratima, was that it has reduced the stigma around mental health issues and made the larger population realise that they are not something to be ashamed of. Seeking support for mental disorders has become easier and significantly more socially acceptable. People are less reluctant to confess that they are facing problems, and now readily approach mental health professionals for help. She also applauded some of the steps taken and initiatives to improve mental health among people, such as the rights-based Mental Health Care Act and initiatives like TeleMANAS.
Finally, addressing the passing-out batch of the graduates of YSR University, she encouraged them by saying that the profession they are entering has exciting things brewing in it. The knowledge and technology domains of medicine are seeing novel innovations, which, as per Dr Pratima, are both an opportunity and a threat. She gave them hope and motivation by saying that as long as they aspire to be good physicians and imbibe the qualities of one, technologies will act as their armamentarium, but will not replace them, now or in the future.
At the convocation event, Dr. Pratima Murthy was conferred with a Doctor of Science by Governor Abdul Nazeer in the capacity of the Chancellor of the University. It was followed by the awarding of medals and certificates of merit to meritorious students across Medical, Dental, Ayush, Nursing and allied health sciences disciplines by the Chancellor.
Additional Information about the TeleMANAS initiative:
The Tele Mental Health Assistance and Networking Across States (Tele-MANAS) is an initiative that was launched by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in October 2022. Looking at the acute mental health crisis that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, an urgent need to establish a digital mental health network that could withstand the challenges faced by people amplified by the pandemic was felt. Consequently, the government of India announced the National TeleMental Health Programme (NTMHP) in the Union Budget 2022-23.
It aims to provide free mental health services all across the country, round the clock. It particularly caters to people in remote, rural, or under-served areas, who do not have access to mental health services otherwise. The programme includes a network of 38 tele-mental health centres of excellence which are located across 27 States and Union Territories. They provide mental health services to callers in over 20 languages. A team of over 1600 trained counsellors runs the first-line services. The nodal centre for the initiative is NIMHANS, Bengaluru.
The public can access the Tele MANAS helpline by dialling a toll-free number or shortcode. Any individual facing mental health issues can reach out for help to Tele MANAS services. Even family members of persons with mental health concerns can approach the service. Grass-root health care providers and community health providers – Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), and community volunteers from the community can also reach out to Tele MANAS on behalf of individuals in the community with mental health issues. Depending upon the level of care and counselling required by the caller, the attending counsellor either provides the service on their own as per their capabilities, or refers the person to a more qualified mental health specialist (clinical psychologist, psychiatric social worker, psychiatric nurse, or psychiatrist).