Not all the tele-MANAS cells have medical professionals. Counselors suggest the nearest mental institute to the callers.
Bengaluru: The Tele Mental Health Assistance and Networking Across States (Tele-MANAS), does not have mental health professionals in all the working cells.
Supriya, a 23-year-old, who lives in Bengaluru, was stressed due to work, and called the helpline number. “The medical professional was a trainee psychologist who did not connect me to any psychologist or a therapist, instead, she gave me details of the psychologists available on google,” she said.
Dr. Aishwarya who is a counselor in tele-MANAS said that the cell she is working in does not have any psychologists and psychiatrists. The counselors do not connect the callers to medical professionals, but instead suggest the nearest hospital. “We do not prescribe the medicines now, as we are still hiring psychologists and psychiatrists,” said Aishwarya. The counselor said that it might take a couple of months for them to hire medical professionals. Also, they used to receive 30 to 40 calls per day initially when the portal was started but now, they receive 15 to 20 calls per day.
Tele-MANAS works with a toll-free number, 14416, which is set up across the country, and allows callers to select the language of their comfort to communicate. The languages provided are English, Hindi, and other regional or state languages spoken in that area. Also, the initiative is to provide 24/7 services.
Supriya opted to communicate in Hindi, while the counsellor spoke in English. Also, the counsellor mentioned that they work from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
The helpline number works after 8:00 p.m. in Hyderabad and Mumbai. Naveen, a resident of Hyderabad, and Kushali, a resident of Mumbai called the helpline number after 8:00 p.m. and the call was connected to a counselor. However, neither of them was connected to a psychologist or diverted to a video consultation.
Tele-MANAS is a two-tier mechanism which was started on October 10, 2022, by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Tier-one comprises state Tele-MANAS cells which include trained counsellors and mental health specialists. Tier-two comprises specialists at District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) or Medical College resources for a physical consultation. According to the tele-MANAS website, Tier two includes audio-visual consultation which is e-Sanjeevani or in-person services, where the caller is asked to visit the nearest psychologists or psychiatrists.
A counsellor from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) said that the NIMHANS cell has psychologists available for the callers who still require medical professionals’ treatment even after talking to the counsellor.“The process for prescribing medication on call is not rolled out,” said the counsellor.
Vasavi Goteti, who is a psychology facilitator at Johnson Grammar School in Hyderabad said, “the availability of the psychologists and psychiatrists depends on their pay. If there is no monetary gain from the work, then it leads to a lack of professionals.” The idea of 24/7 availability of any helpline number depends on the quality of the recruitment of the officials. Also, most of the time professionals are underpaid which does not encourage the idea of working for long hours, said Vasavi. “Government should identify the needs and compensate the requirements before starting such helpline numbers,” said the lecturer.