Authored by Dr Arshad Hussain, Secretary Health Bhupinder Kumar, psychiatrists Manasi Kumar, and Fazle Roub suggests up-scaling of telepsychiatry in UT
Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir, witnessing a complicated political situation over the decades coupled with natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods including impacts from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, has been facing a colossal mental burden, as per a recent paper making it to the prestigious global journal Lancet.
The paper titled ‘Reducing the mental health treatment gap in Kashmir: scaling up to maximise the potential of telepsychiatry’, reveals that the area has a huge mental health burden and that authorities have tried to address this by increasing the number of trained mental health professionals, despite these efforts the gap remains largely unaddressed.
To tackle mental health morbidity, the study has suggested up-scaling of telepsychiatry in the region.
“It is especially relevant in regions such as Jammu and Kashmir that have faced political conflict and natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and including impacts from the ongoing Covid19 pandemic,” the study reveals.
The study paper says that the policymakers have also initiated the Tele MANAS centre in Kashmir, where mental health needs are being prioritised by introducing more professionals who can provide services in local Kashmiri and Urdu languages.
“Since its launch on 4th November, 2022, the centre has received 4000 calls as people with mental illness from every district of the Union Territory are seeking professional help.”
“These numbers convey the enormous demand and needs but also show that TELE Manas is acceptable to people and they are initiating contact with mental health providers. The current step is expected to ensure cost-and-time-effective and comprehensive services for the poorly served population of the region, strengthening mental health, an area that has been historically neglected in Jammu and Kashmir”, remarks the study authored by Dr Arshad Hussain, Secretary Health and Medical Education Bhupinder Kumar alongside two other veteran psychiatrists Manasi Kumar, and Fazle Roub.
When contacted, Secretary Health and Medical Education (H&ME) Dr. Bhupinder Kumar, who is part of the study paper, remarked that there have been many underlying gaps vis-à-vis the need to access mental health in Kashmir. “This paper mainly talks about the measures aimed at bridging of these gaps, for we have dearth of trained mental health care workers, be it counselors, be it clinical psychologists or the psychiatrists who might otherwise help us in this pursuit”, Kumar was however quick to add that it may be due to regional variations as well. “If we talk about Jammu and Kashmir only, we’ll get to see variation between Kashmir and Jammu, likewise in Kashmir the variation between Srinagar and any other district.”
“The mental health issues remain unaddressed also because of stigma and lack of general awareness which results that many people face issues of mental awareness which depletes the quality, productivity and efficiency of life of people sufferings from these, not to talk how it affects their overall economic and financial situation”, Kumar said adding “To bridge this gap, a Tele-service by the name of Tele-Manas was launched by GoI in November 2022 in Kashmir, which runs on a toll-free number round the clock throughout the year. Our counselors receive calls on the number with due diligence to maintain the confidentiality of the callers’ and in turn counsel anyone in need and we have been receiving calls from people who are facing different situations particular to them.”
“Since the time we have started this helpline, we have received more than ten thousand calls and off-late we have witnessed a trend that we are receiving repeat-callers (callers calling more than once) even as the duration of average call is also increasing. Though still in its infancy stage, it nevertheless has fetched us quite good results till we recruit and appoint more psychiatrists in our medical colleges. We have proposed a similar and separate call centre exclusive for Jammu to overcome linguistic barriers, if any, coming in way for an effective redressal of the issue.”
“Off-late we have been receiving a good number of calls from females as well and it would be apt to say there are more female callers as compared to male callers over a while now”, Kumar said adding this shows that there perhaps was some constraint or some sort of shyness by the females before this initiative was taken.”
Asked as from which region the calls have been more, Kumar said they have seen more calls from Kashmir as compared to Jammu. “If seen within Kashmir, Srinagar people have more calls followed by Anantnag, Baramulla and Pulwama and the other districts as well.”
“The acceptance of this paper is a testimony that it is an acknowledgement and an important step towards the expansion of tele-mental health services, otherwise we have a very acute shortage of psychiatrists as we have many districts where there is no trained psychiatrist at all.”
“This is a step towards the bigger pursuit and larger cause and hopefully we will see better results in coming times.”
“I genuinely and wholeheartedly appreciate and compliment all the doctors who have been part of this study paper”, Kumar further said.