Dial 14416 to speak to a Tele-MANAS counselor for free. It's anonymous and accessible 24/7. Cool, right?
Picture this – you're having a rough day, feeling anxious and a bit low. Your heart's thumping, your mind's racing, and everything feels a bit too much. Wouldn't it be nice to just pick up the phone, dial 14416 and talk to a professional, someone who can guide you through this storm? And what if I told you that it was free? Well, that's exactly what Tele-MANAS offers.
Hi! I’m Anika Beri, founder of Clear AI, and a big believer in the magic of tech in healthcare. Today, we're gonna hop on an unbelievable journey into the world of mental health, buckle up as we plunge into the world's biggest digital mental health initiative ever, Tele-MANAS.
Here's a scary fact – 1 in 7 Indians struggle with mental health issues. We've got a severe shortage of therapists, with just one for every 4 lakh people. Plus, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for mental health support has shot up, with reports showing a staggering 35% increase in depression and anxiety disorders in India.
In swoops Tele-MANAS, an incredible nationwide tele-mental health program was launched by the government in October 2022. With this program, help is just a call away, 24/7, especially for those in remote or hard-to-reach places.
I had the privilege to meet and discuss more about Tele-MANAS with Dr. Naveen Kumar, who’s leading this initiative at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru. Ready to dive into how this massive mental health network works? Let's go!
Q: Can you explain how Tele-MANAS operates?
Dr. Naveen: The service can be accessed by calling toll-free helpline numbers 14416 and 1-800-891-4416. Callers interact with a centralized Interactive Voice Response system (IVRS), after which they are transferred to a trained counsellor in their respective regions. If needed, they are connected virtually to mental health specialists like clinical psychologists, and psychiatrists. The second tier of services includes in-person consultations at District Mental Health Programme (DMHP)/Medical College resources and e-Sanjeevani for audio-visual consultation, which is already operational in Karnataka, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, and Madhya Pradesh.
Q: How many people are currently involved in providing these services?
Dr. Naveen: The program consists of five regional coordination centres along with 51 cells across 30 states and UTs. Currently, there are 20 trained counsellors in every state, and NIMHANS has conducted training for 900 of these. IIIT-B and National Health Systems Resource Centre (NHRSC) provide the technical support.
Q. Out of curiosity, you mentioned this is a state-led endeavor funded by the central government. Did all the states come on board simultaneously?
Dr. Naveen: Yes, there's a widespread understanding that mental health is a major concern significantly affecting our nation. The Indian government has shown its commitment to this cause by setting aside Rs. 120.98 crore for the program in 2022-23. We've received the most calls from Jammu and Kashmir, and they've also recently implemented an AI chatbot for the initial stages of care.
Q: Who can access these services and how has the response been so far?
Dr. Naveen: The response has been incredibly positive, especially in regions where mental health services were previously scarce or inaccessible. The services are available to everyone, from kids to adults, with the maximum users being middleaged adults. Since its launch, Tele-MANAS has received a staggering 1,55,000 calls up to 15th June 2023, with services available in 20 languages across India. We receive approximately 100 calls daily, with each call having a duration of around 15 minutes.
Q: What challenges have you faced since the program's launch?
Dr. Naveen: The primary challenges we face are associated with infrastructure, logistics, and connectivity, especially for remote islands like Lakshadweep. Additionally, there's a significant challenge posed by the stigma around mental health in certain communities, as well as a general lack of awareness. We're addressing these through various awareness campaigns and education initiatives.
Q: What is the future plan for Tele-MANAS?
Dr. Naveen: We plan to monitor calls and involve an external evaluator while maintaining privacy. Our focus is on quality assurance, creating accreditation protocols, and considering a specialized degree for Tele-MANAS trainees. Additionally, we aim to integrate AI chatbots for wider reach. We also plan for operational improvements and expanded awareness campaigns in regional languages.
Think of mental health as a road trip, not a destination. Tele-MANAS serves as a GPS. It’s a testament to the power of collective effort and technological innovation. It promises a future where mental health help is just a call away for everyone. We're doing something similar at Clear AI. Head to www.tryclear.ai for a quick way to relieve stress by sharing your thoughts. We'd love to hear your feedback!
As I wrap up this story, let's remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you're feeling distressed, don't hesitate to reach out. Remember, you are not alone. Dial 14416 - because there's always someone willing to listen, someone who cares. :)