Nagaland's Mental Health Challenges: Stigma, Treatment Gaps & Awareness

Morung Express news 
Kohima | October 9

Stigma, treatment gap, dearth of facilities or psychiatrists, lack of awareness etc have often been points of discussion with regard to mental health in Nagaland. However, even as inadequacies overshadow this important issue, healthcare workers and service providers in this sector, both government and private derive their purpose from the adage that “mental health is a universal human right,” and are working towards increasing their role in creating awareness and providing accessible services. 

Suyimtenla Jamir is currently a Clinical Psychologist of the Tele-MANAS cell in Nagaland's lone State Mental Health Institute. The service caters to 24/7 free tele-mental health calls.

Even as a central programme which was launched nationwide with an aim to bolster mental health care in the country, she says there has been a slow response in the state. Almost two months on, Jamir said that the cell got about 90 calls. She says that as mental health care workers, they “right now play a very diverse role in the society because society still does not consider them as health care workers because of lack of understanding of the work and its necessity.”

It is because of this, Jamir opined that Naga society always needs to start from the beginning, putting psychological education before intervention, treatment and other topics. 

Even with the dearth of psychiatrists in the state, clinical psychologists like them, especially in the government sector continue to function in collaboration with psychiatrists or medical practitioners through referrals. However a structured form of treatment plan is yet to be established.

Rokuotuonuo Rutsa, a Clinical Psychologist who has worked at the government mental health institute and teaches psychology in Nagaland University, observes that awareness is a need of the hour, “starting from our own neighbourhoods, wards, to the schools, colleges, universities, workplaces to the remotest parts of the state.”

She states that important issues at hand are not only the lack of manpower and infrastructure or lack of qualified mental health professionals; but an increasing number of adolescents and young people with different mental health conditions; mostly Common Mental Disorders (CMDs) and the steep rise in substance use. Unaddressed CMDs further leads to Severe Mental Disorders (SMDs). 

Rutsa adds that it is at this stage where the most frequent and clearly visible violations of human rights takes place, as it has been observed for many years that the discourse on human rights violations usually revolves around SMDs. 

She derives her role towards advocacy by educating the masses on common mental health disorders, early intervention and the importance of being more empathetic towards people in need, treating people with love, care and equality. 

Observing the growing importance of service in this spectrum, Psychiatric Social Worker, Lisali Humtsoe along with a group of individuals from diverse background have come together to work on addressing mental health issues under the umbrella of Gracious Life Foundation (GLF).

A unique initiative she shared was the Half Way Home (HWH) services for both men and women, in March 2022. Half Way Home is a community based psycho-social rehabilitation program designed for individuals that are in recovery from mental disorders that no longer require full services of a hospital, but are not yet entirely ready to live on their own or with their family.

According to Humstoe, whose early part of the career was based outside the state, in Nagaland, people are not ready to come forward or are not open-minded. Humtsoe observed that services may have been present for many years ago, but are yet to gain visibility. 

Through her Foundation, psychiatric OPDs, counseling and awareness programmes are conducted. She adds that the reluctance to seeking treatment for mental health issues is due of lack of awareness and stigma associated with it.

Imlibenla Mongro, clinical psychologist at Christian Institute of Health Science and Research, Dimapur as a service provider, delivers her service through psychological therapy, to help people feel better.

As she encourages people to become a voice “in our own way and capacity,” Mongro says some areas of concern that people can become vocal in are to make mental health services more accessible and compulsorily available in educational institutions and workplaces. She also advocates health schemes and insurances to include mental health care; Churches to promote and provide safe spaces for discussion of mental health problems and to encourage the congregation to get the right kind of help. Further she suggests that the government promote and inculcate community mental health services in the rural areas by training workers in psychological first aid.