Kerala is taking mental health services to the doorsteps of people as those who need them often avoid treatment due to the stigma attached to visiting a psychiatric hospital.
"People flock to health centres for fever or common cold. But for psychiatric treatment they are hesitant to visit a mental health centre, fearing social stigma," says P Krishnakumar, director of the Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Science (Imhans).
Imhans, an autonomous body under the Kerala government, has now decided to take the services to the people by organising community mental health programmes in villages, Krishnakumar said.
Kozhikode-based Imhans has initiated different models of community mental healthcare in the districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad, making treatment available in villages.
The institute organises clinics once a month in community health centres across these districts, providing drugs free of cost.
"In these three districts, through 36 clinics we now treat around 2,000 patients," Krishnakumar told IANS.
In each of the districts, the institute is using different channels to reach patients.
"In Wayanad, Imhans is the implementing agency for the district mental health programme of the central government. In Kozhikode, we are using the support of NGOs and the panchayat to run the programme. In Malappuram the programme is purely a people's initiative and we are giving technical support to it."
Currently, 21 psychiatric clinics are in operation in the hilly district of Wayanad. "A psychiatrist visits patients at each of these clinics, some of them in far flung areas, once every month," said Krishnakumar.
A psychologist, a pharmacist and a psychiatric nurse accompany the psychiatrist. Around 1,000 patients are getting treatment through these clinics in Wayanad.
In Kozhikode district, the institute has community health clinics at Balussery, Perambra and Valayam.
"The panchayats have a provision to allot funds for the care of psychiatric patients. At Balussery, we are providing drugs free of cost to poor patients as the panchayat there is providing funds for it," the Imhans director said.
A voluntary agency, Santwanam, complements the work of the institute at these centres. Santwanam has a rehabilitation centre for cured patients at the health centre in Balussery.
"Now, we have six people undergoing training at the centre. We are training them in bag making," said Damodaran Nair Panoli, the district president of Santwanam.
"The local panchayat supported us in all possible ways. The authorities even provided us room at the government health centre to run the rehab unit," Nair said.
In Malappuram, the community mental health programme is known as the Malappuram Initiative in Community Psychiatry (MICP), which runs 12 clinics.
"This project is run totally on people's initiative. We are giving only technical support to them," Krishnakumar said. The fund for running the programme is mobilised through donations alone. The clinics now treat around 500 patients, he added.