National mental health helpline logged one lakh calls in six months

Tele-MANAS, a free-of-cost mental health helpline, received one lakh calls in the six months since the initiative was set up and marks a significant milestone for the national tele-mental health programme of India, Dr Suresh Bada Math, officer-in-charge of NIMHANS Digital Academy and head of the Tele-medicine Centre, said on Friday.

He was speaking on ‘digital mental health’ at the SYMHealth 2023 national conference held at Pune’s Symbiosis International University’s Lavale campus. Dr Bada Math said that approximately 70 per cent were distress calls, while 20-25 per cent sought information, and around 5-10 per cent pertained to mental health disorders and required professional help.

“Access to mental health care is a big challenge as stigma and availability of trained human resources is still a concern,” Dr Bada Math told The Indian Express on the sidelines of the conference. Citing an example, he said people from Bengaluru sometimes do not come to NIMHANS for consultation due to stigma, and instead visit other institutions in other states.

Before the Covid pandemic, the country’s largest survey done by NIMHANS and the Union Health Ministry (2014-16) showed that at least 10 per cent of the population suffers from diagnosable psychiatric conditions and at least one crore (0.8%) has severe mental health disorders.

Considering the magnitude of mental illness, the resources available are lacking as there are approximately 12,000 psychiatrists and around 60,000 beds for patients with psychiatric disorders.

“The treatment gap for mental disorders ranged between 70 per cent and 86 per cent for different disorders,” he said.

The NIMHANS Digital Academy was formed in June 2018 to fill the gap, he said. An urgent need was felt for a digital mental health network in the wake of the pandemic and Tele-MANAS aimed to provide the same by giving access to mental healthcare services 24X7 in the remotest parts of the country. These services are available for all individuals free-of-cost through a toll-free number: 14416 / 1800-89-14416.

According to Dr Bada Math, digital mental health refers to using information and communications technologies in medicine and other allied health professions to manage mental illnesses, distress, and health risks, as well as promote wellness.

Digital mental health has a broad scope and includes the use of wearable devices, mobile health, tele-health, health information technology, and telemedicine, he pointed out. “Tele-manas has been able to prevent many suicides,” Dr Bada Math said.

Dr Rajiv Yeravadekar, Provost, Faculty of Medical and Health Science, Symbiosis International University, told The Indian Express that higher education institutions have played a large role in this pandemic of mental health, and realising this importance they set up Symbiosis Centre for Emotional Well Being to develop a more resilient society.

Earlier Dr Siddhartha Bhattacharya, country director of Access Health International and president of NATHEALTH, inaugurated the 25th edition of SYMHEALTH 2023 and said an integrated approach in healthcare was the need of the hour.


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