DMHP’s awareness programmes help people seek early treatment

The District Mental Health Programme (DMHP), as part of its strategies to integrate mental health care services with primary health care, has launched a community-level intervention to create awareness of mental illnesses and encourage people to identify these and seek treatment early.

As part of the exercise, a team of trained social work students and students of Psychiatric Nursing is camping in Kuttichal grama panchayat to conduct mental health awareness programmes.

The fortnight-long awareness programmes will end with a medical camp, when people are encouraged to seek professional assistance for any problems they may face.

“We developed this strategy after two successful community intervention experiments at Kallikkadu and Cherunniyoor grama panchayats. Earlier, we were treating just eight cases requiring psychiatric assistance at the Kattakada primary health centre (PHC) in Kallikkadu grama panchayat. Through our intervention, 322 new cases were detected from the community,” says P.S. Kiran, the nodal officer of the programme.

Three-member teams of trained accredited social health activist (ASHA) or anganwadi workers visited every house in every ward, met families, and with their help, filled out simple questionnaires that help identify certain general symptoms of mental disorders. Though 322 cases were identified, only 89 attended the medical camp. Dr. Kiran says much sustained work will be needed to encourage people to ward off the stigmas associated with mental illnesses and convince them that such illnesses are treatable like any physical ailment.

Kuttichal panchayat was chosen by the DMHP as the panchayat has 27 tribal settlements where mental health issues and substance abuse are reported to be rampant

The significant outcome of mental health interventions at the grassroots-level is that many new cases of mental disorders can be picked up early.

Though the stigma of mental illnesses continues to be a huge hurdle, many grama panchayats have been showing interest in implementing the programme. .

The local primary health centres have a huge role to play in sustaining the programme as all cases detected and the treatment initiated at the medical camp have to be followed up by the local Medical Officer in-charge.

There is only one DMHP team in the district, which conducts 20 direct clinics a month in all PHCs/CHCs. Patients with chronic or serious mental illnesses alone are referred to the DMHP clinic while those patients whose conditions are controllable with regular medication are looked after by medical officers in the PHCs who undergo continuous training. Every PHC conducts a mental health clinic every Thursday.

It is a slow exercise, but the DMHP intends to reach out to every grama panchayat.

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