Caring for mental health at the local level

Mental health is something that rarely comes under the considerations of a local self-government body’s plans.

But in Chirayinkeezh block panchayat in the capital, it is the centrepiece of the local body’s activities. In 2017, a project called ‘Suraksha’, aimed at community-based rehabilitation of mental health patients, was launched in the six grama panchayats coming under the block, the only such project under a local body in Kerala.

Over the past three years, those with mental health issues were identified through an intensive grass-root level survey covering 1.83 lakh people living in the panchayats of Chirayinkeezh, Kizhuvilam, Kadakkavoor, Anchuthengu, Vakkom and Mudakkal, and provided support and treatment.

The focus of the programme was in providing help at the community or local level than putting people in rehabilitation centres where they spend years, cut off from the society.

The project that was conceptualised by a team led by E. Nazeer, social scientist at the Psychiatry department in Government Medical College Thiruvananthapuram, and Anil Prabhakaran, Head of the Psychiatry Department, was adopted as a pilot project by the State government, which also appointed a monitoring committee for it.

“Initially, we carried out door-to-door surveys in all wards, during which close to a thousand patients needing attention were identified. The primary focus of the programme was to provide the patients support at their own house itself, for which their family members were also provided some level of awareness and training. Weekly check-ups were arranged in the primary health centres. The doctors in these PHCs were provided training in handling mental health issues by the Medical College’s psychiatry department. The doctors from the department also regularly visited these clinics. Counselling sessions, free medicines and continued support were provided. The more serious cases were referred to the taluk hospital,” says R. Subhash, Chirayinkeezh block panchayat president.

Monitoring committees and task forces were formed at multiple levels from the ward to the block levels. A legion of health volunteers, anganwadi workers, health inspections, junior public health nurses and those who have completed Masters in Social Work were mobilised for the survey as well as monitoring purposes.

The Social Justice Department as well as the Health Department provided initial funds, while each of the grama panchayats have also set aside ₹2 to 3 lakh each for the project. In the second phase, the project was extended to schools in these six panchayats. Following the survey, 1,200 students were identified as having mental health issues, learning disabilities, and issues at home which have been affecting them. Counselling and continued support are being provided to these students.

A paper analysing the project has appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Humanities and Social Science.

“This project was aimed at raising awareness for the society as a whole to see mental health issues like any other medical issue. Such an awareness and support from the family and community level can itself bring about a lot of change,” says Mr. Subhash.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 2:55:32 AM |

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