Budget 2022: Sitharaman announces 24x7 free tele counselling for mental health
The government will launch a national tele-mental health programme to provide 24x7 free counselling and care to people, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced on Tuesday.
“The pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages. To better the access to quality mental health counselling and care services, a National Tele Mental Health Programme will be launched,” she told Parliament while presenting the Union Budget 2022-23.
The initiative will include a network of 23 tele-mental health centres of excellence, with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) as its nodal centre and International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIITB) providing technological support.
The programme will provide round-the-clock access to mental health care services to people, health minister Mansukh Mandaviya said. “The National Tele-Mental Health Programme will ensure access to quality, standardized & free 24x7 mental health services to all and will play a crucial role in bridging a major gap in access to mental healthcare in the country. #AatmaNirbharBharatKaBudget,” he tweeted.
Counselling and care will be provided using “standard, evidence-based, and culturally appropriate” tools.
“It will bridge gap in access to mental healthcare & help in achieving India’s SDG target 3.4.2. It will help to connect with various mental healthcare services, the health and wellness centres under Ayushman Bharat as well as e-Sanjeevani system. The initiative will be aligned with Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission,” Mandaviya said in another tweet.
NIMHANS, a government certified centre of excellence, has been providing tele-consultations for years.
The demand for access to mental health care services increased manifold during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic across the globe, experts said, as people found it difficult to cope with the stress due to restrictions and witnessing disease and deaths around.
“The pandemic has caused a silent global mental health epidemic. The use of telemedicine to diagnose and treat such patients has proved to be highly effective given the unobtrusive nature of the interaction which also ensures patient privacy,” said Rana Mehta, partner and leader, healthcare, PwC India, a consultancy. “Given the shortage of mental health professionals, especially in rural areas, telemedicine will greatly enhance accessibility for patients requiring psychiatric help,”
People receiving treatment for mental conditions also found it difficult to access care.
In 2020, World Health Organisation released findings of a mental health survey, which said the pandemic has disrupted critical mental health services in 93% of the countries worldwide.
Nearly one-thirds reported disruptions to emergency interventions, including those for people experiencing prolonged seizures; severe substance use withdrawal syndromes, and delirium, often a sign of a serious underlying medical condition, the survey found. Around 30% reported disruptions to access for medications for mental, neurological and substance use disorders.
Taking note of the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of people, including children, the government since the onset of the pandemic has taken a number of initiatives to provide psychosocial support to people. The initiatives included setting up of 24x7 helpline by trained mental health professionals for different target groups like children, adults, elderly, women, and health workers.
The latest initiative is an effort to address mental health concerns of citizens in a broader way, said Dr Samir Parikh, director, department of mental health and behavioral sciences, Fortis Healthcare, which runs a hospital chain.
“By prioritising mental health, the finance minister has taken a very important step which is the need of the hour. Tele-medicine will ensure affordability and accessibility and we can move towards a goal of mental health for all,” Dr Parikh said.