India rolls out nationwide tele-mental health service
Presently, five regional coordination centres have been set up, along with 51 state or union territory-level cells.
The Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare of India has formally launched this week its national tele-mental health programme.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Called Tele Mental Health Assistance and Networking Across States (Tele-MANAS), it will provide free, round-the-clock teleconsultation service for mental health concerns. It runs a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) at its core and the International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore providing technology support.
The Indian Institute of Technology-Bengaluru and the National Health Systems Resource Centre are also providing technical support for the programme.
It will be organised in a two-tier system: Tier 1 comprises state-level cells with trained counsellors and mental health specialists and Tier 2 comprises the e-Sanjeevani, India’s national telemedicine service, which provides audio-visual consultation, and specialists from the District Mental Health Programme and partner medical colleges who are providing in-person consultations.
In a press statement, the union government said it aims to open at least one Tele-MANAS cell in each state or union territory across the country. Presently, five regional coordination centres have been set up, along with 51 state or union territory-level Tele-MANAS cells.
Additionally, about 900 counsellors have been trained by NIMHANS for the programme.
This initial rollout, the government said, will provide basic support and counselling through a centralized Interactive Voice Response system that is being customised for use across states and union territories.
Tele-MANAS is planned to be linked with other services such as e-Sanjeevani and Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, as well as with mental health professionals and emergency psychiatric facilities.
“Eventually, this will include the entire spectrum of mental wellness and illness, and integrate all systems that provide mental health care,” the government added.
WHY IT MATTERS
In launching Tele-MANAS, the Indian government recognises the ongoing mental health crisis in the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the start of the pandemic, around 40% of Indians have been experiencing some form of mental health problems, according to a survey report by the Indian Psychiatry Society.
The government also acknowledges the “urgent need” to establish a digital mental health network to address population health challenges brought about by the pandemic.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
The establishment of a national tele-mental health programme was first announced early this year in the release of the Union Budget 22-23.
In an earlier statement, Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said the programme aims to transform access to mental healthcare by providing counselling and care using standard, evidence-based, culturally appropriate tools; enhancing access to quality, standardised, and free mental health services; and helping to connect with various mental health care services.