Mental Health: Where to start?

Akangjungla

May is World Mental Health Awareness Month. The World Mental Health Awareness Month started in the United States in 1949 with the purpose to create awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, and to address mental health issues in an empathetic way. This year the chosen theme is “For anyone struggling with the pressure of today’s world, feeling alone, or wondering if they can feel better, this is where to start.” In parallel, the Mental Health Awareness Week also takes place from May 13-19 in some places. The theme is ‘Movement: Moving more for mental health.’

A great amount of attention is being given to mental health issues, a topic which still remains a taboo in the Naga society. In a significant step towards strengthening mental health services in Nagaland, the Tele-Mental Health and Neuro Science (Tele-MANAS) under the auspices of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav was launched at the State Mental Health Institute, Kohima in August 2023. Tele-MANAS, an initiative under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, aims to provide free tele-mental health services all over the country round the clock, particularly catering to people in remote or under-served areas. The programme includes a network of 38 tele-mental health centres of excellence spread across 27 States and UTs, providing mental health services in over 20 languages and over 1600 trained counsellors running the first-line services. NIMHANS Bengaluru is the nodal centre. During the inaugural programme it was informed that Tele-MANAS has been set up in all the state of India and the state of Nagaland was one of the last states to set up the project. Tele-MANAS strive to bridge the gap between mental health services and those in need by offering remote access to mental health professionals. 

In a recent initiative, the Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) under the Prodigal’s Home, conducted an intensive ten-day awareness campaign covered place across Dimapur and Chümoukedima districts, including educational institutions, government institutions, police stations, churches and villages. It called for a deeper commitment from the communities and individuals towards strengthening mental health care inorder to meet the full spectrum of mental health needs through community-based participation. 

In response to a weekly poll question in this newspaper on what measure is required to address the challenges around mental health issues in Naga society, a respondent brought to light the need to normalise mental healthcare as much as physical health. It communicated loud that there are also some misplaced priorities in terms of target audiences when it comes to awareness campaigns which are mostly centered among the young and urban settings. One couldn’t agree more that ‘we seriously need to target the older population, religious institutions and rural areas; these are areas where all the misconceptions on mental health breed.’ To reach the point where the Naga people as a community is talking beyond just creating awareness and finding ways to dispel the myth and fighting the stigma around mental health, opportunities and upbringings have to be created to normalise the conversation around mental health issue. 

As stigma and discrimination continue to be a challenge, the indifference from the community poses a greater barrier to create the safe and normal space for people affected by mental health issues to have a conversation about their experience without the fear of being judged. There is a big gap and it has to be filled collectively by building trust and listening to the voices of people who lived experience of mental health conditions. And therefore, community response to normalise mental health would be very critical to give hope and purpose to the people, especially for someone who is already dealing with lower levels of mental well-being. The observance of World Mental Health Awareness Month is another chance for the State government and organisations to acknowledge the vital importance of mental health and make an impact in the community through action-oriented initiatives and results.

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