Srinagar, Oct 10: Jammu and Kashmir has secured the top position in the Union Territories category for achieving the highest number of calls in the National Tele Mental Health Programme. This recognition was announced at the Mental Health Conclave held on Mental Health Day in New Delhi on Tuesday.
Bhupinder Kumar, Secretary, Health and Medical Education, along with the Program Manager for Mental Health under the National Health Mission (NHM) in J&K, received the prestigious award on behalf of their team at the Mental Health Conclave. The award was presented by Dr V.K. Paul, Member of NITI Aayog, in the presence of Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Dr Mansukh Mandaviya, who joined virtually.
Other distinguished dignitaries present during the event included Rajesh Aggarwal, Secretary of the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities; Sanjay Kumar, Secretary of the Department of School Education and Literacy, Government of India; Dr. Bharat Lal, Secretary General of the National Human Rights Commission of India; Dr. B.N. Gangadhar, Chairman of the National Medical Commission; Lt. Gen. Daljit Singh, Director General of the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS); Dr. Roderico H. Ofrin, WHO Representative to India; Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chairperson of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and Former Chief Scientist at WHO; Dr. Prathima Murthi, Director of NIMHANS; LS Changsan, Additional Secretary and Mission Director at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India; Dr. Pratima Murthy, Director of NIMHANS; and Prof. (Dr.) R.K. Dhamija, Director of IHBAS.
The National Tele Mental Health Programme of India aims to establish comprehensive, integrated, and inclusive 24x7 tele-mental health facilities in each State and Union Territory, with the goal of providing universal access to equitable, accessible, affordable, and quality mental health care through 24x7 tele-mental health counselling services.
Bhupinder Kumar provided details about the program, stating that since its launch on November 4, 2022, the center has received an impressive 26,477 calls. The major reasons for calling include anxiety (2,854 calls), sadness of mood (2,790 calls), palpitations (2,428 calls), reduced interest (1,931 calls), stress (1,869 calls), sleep disturbances (1,601 calls), and suicidal ideation/attempts (799 calls), among others. The program has also received calls related to substance use and addiction.
For those in need, the Toll-Free helpline number is 14416/1-800-891-4416. NHM J&K has also conceptualized the country's first Chatbot for Tele-MANAS to enhance accessibility to Mental Health Services. The Tele Manas Chatbot was launched in J&K on July 5, 2023, by the Lieutenant Governor of the Union Territory, with the aim of reaching out to the youth.
Recognizing the tech-savvy nature of today's youth, a WhatsApp number, 9797600601, has been established to initiate two-way chats with Mental Health Counsellors, making it easier for individuals to seek help and consultation.
During the event, Bhupinder Kumar also presented an overview of other new initiatives undertaken by the Department of Health and Medical Education in Jammu and Kashmir to improve mental health across the Union Territory. These initiatives include increasing the number of seats for both MD/DNB courses in psychiatry, capacity building of doctors and support staff, and the introduction of a Diploma Course for Medical Officers in collaboration with NIMHANS Bengaluru.
Traditionally, seeking help for mental health issues was stigmatized, especially among female patients in Kashmir. However, with Tele-MANAS, people are increasingly coming forward to seek assistance and support for mental health concerns.
Under the banner of the Tele-MANAS initiative, the Jammu and Kashmir National Health Mission has initiated sensitization workshops in educational institutions to raise awareness about mental health. The first workshop was held on July 25 at the University of Kashmir.
In May of this year, Kashmir's Tele-MANAS cell achieved international recognition by publishing an article in The Lancet, titled "Reducing the Mental Health Treatment Gap in Kashmir: Scaling Up to Maximize the Potential of Telepsychiatry."
The article highlighted how barriers to seeking help for mental health issues are being addressed through helplines and remote services.
The lead author of the article in The Lancet is Prof Arshad Hussain, with co-authors Bhupinder Kumar from the Health and Medical Education Department in J&K, Manasi Kumar from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and Fazle Roub from the Department of Psychiatry at IMHANS, GMC Srinagar.