Members of self-help groups (SHGs) across Tamil Nadu will soon be trained as mental health counsellors. This is under “Manam Inidhu”, an initiative that will be implemented by Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women, Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) and the Institute of Mental Health, and will train community professionals in the next six months.
R. Thara, vice chairperson of SCARF, said the programme would be implemented in phases, starting with 22 blocks in districts including Cuddalore, Erode, Salem, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam, Ramanathapuram and Tiruchi.
“Our research has shown that 80 to 90% of persons in rural areas who need help for mental health issues remain untreated. So, the mental health gap is huge. The District Mental Health Programme is definitely functioning well but we need additional resources. The SHGs are a vital resource in our rural communities,” she said.
Tamil Nadu has 101 lakh SHG members who work closely with families and communities. Through this programme, these members would be trained on the basic principles of mental health. This would enable them to help persons in stress and also detect more serious disorders such as schizophrenia and depression. They can then make the appropriate referrals to nearby treatment centres, a press release said.
Training would be carried out in three stages. Already, training for administrators and field-level staff has been held. Next, a five-day training of trainers that could cover programme managers -- persons who oversee the functioning of SHGs -- will be conducted mid-November.
“These persons will then go to the field and select members of SHGs and train them. We have a manual on mental disorders, and are also working on a mobile application,” said Dr. Thara. The app would be used by the community professionals to collect information and deliver counselling to persons with mental health needs. Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami released the manual recently.
She added that while the SHG members, through gradual training, would be able to help persons with minor issues, those with severe issues such as alcohol-related psychosis and suicidal tendencies would be referred to the district mental health programme.
“SHG members will carry out door-to-door surveys. This is a community-based initiative to address the gap in mental health and improvement awareness,” she added.