“Guys, please stay away from depression,” read one of the posts on my social media feed, along with a picture of Sushant Singh Rajput. “Does our country need someone to die to realise the importance of mental health?,” read another on the same day. These are the extremes that we are living in, within a country where one in seven Indians are affected by mental disorders of varying severity, according to a study by The Lancet.
After Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide, several people, including mental health professionals, came out to speak about the importance of mental health. They encouraged people to receive therapy and seek professional guidance when one is not feeling well, mentally or emotionally. This incident has initiated conversations surrounding mental health, a topic which is steeped in stigma and often misunderstood by the masses.
However, consulting a mental health professional is still a dream for many. Receiving help from a professional is an outcome of certain privileges. Of the 20% population of the country that suffers from some form of mental illness, only 12% are able to receive professional help, says a 2018 report by The Hindu. The report goes on to say that the ones who receive help are most likely to be located in urban areas, belonging to a high socio-economic class, and surrounded by both online and offline networks that do not stigmatise mental health issues. The rural areas are deprived of these privileges.
In their research paper titled Mental Health Services In Rural India: Challenges And Prospects, Anant Kumar explicates the barriers to mental healthcare in rural India. Unavailability of mental health services and lack of resources — especially in terms of human resources, financial constraints and infrastructure — pose a challenge for people in rural areas in accessing adequate mental healthcare materials. Kumar says that the role of stigma, socio-cultural barriers, traditional and religious beliefs worsen the discourse around mental health in rural India.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted almost every field. With increasing uncertainty, followed by lockdowns, the mental health of people has gone for a toss. As per a recent survey by the Indian Psychiatry Society, the number of mental health cases have increased by 20% since the lockdown. At least, one in five Indians have been affected, says the survey. Financial crisis, isolation and domestic violence have all contributed to the overall deteriorating mental health. The survey warns us that this can potentially give rise to a major mental health crisis in the country.
Given the restrictive access to mental healthcare due to the pandemic and an urgent need for intervention, what we need is telecounselling — a form of therapy session where individuals can seek guidance from qualified mental health professionals by giving them a call. Aarogya Seva is one such not-for-profit organisation that runs a pan-India helpline to connect people experiencing any form of mental health distress with counsellors, clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals for free. This Bangalore-based organisation aims at collaborating with organisations working in the rural as well as urban healthcare sector to connect and provide service to those who need it.
When someone calls on the organisation’s helpline, they are immediately connected to a counsellor, who then helps the caller understand their situation. The counsellor guides them on how to deal with mental health distress. Additionally, if the caller complains about any symptoms of COVID-19, the counsellors connect them to a team of doctors for consultation.
Usually, individuals call to receive help for insomnia, depression, anxiety, loneliness and other pre-existing physical or psychiatric conditions. Apart from English, the service is offered in various regional languages including Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. In unprecedented times like these, organisations such as Aarogya Seva can do wonders in reaching out to those in need, and offering them the help they deserve.