Mumbai: With stress levels on the rise everywhere, a large number of people get embroiled in a vicious cycle of overthinking, anxiety and insomnia, all conditions that exacerbate one another. The Maharashtra government’s toll-free mental health helpline ‘Tele-MANAS’ has got over 800 calls asking for help with these conditions ever since it was launched in November 2022.
Part of the National Mental Health Programme, Tele-MANAS helpline centres are located at Pune, Thane and Ambejogai. Each centre has 20 counsellors manning telephone lines through the day.
So far, the helpline number 14416 has received over 3,450 calls, of which 220 were followed up with a subsequent call after a positive experience. While most calls are from people who want to talk about their problems, some are emergencies where the caller is on the verge of self-harming behaviour. The centres get 30 to 40 calls daily on an average, sometimes more; the highest number in a single day was 120 calls in the week preceding New Year’s Eve.
Dr Swapnil Lale, additional director (mental health) of the state directorate of health services, said that the government was aiming to reach out to at least seven percent of the state’s population, which is one crore people. “The most common problems that callers complain about are lack of sleep, loneliness, general sadness, stress and anxiety,” he said.
Psychiatrist Dr Prachi Chivate, who is in charge of the Thane centre—run on the premises of the Thane Mental Hospital—said that medical intervention at the stage of a disturbed sleep pattern was akin to diagnosing cancer at Stage 1. “An irregular sleep pattern, whether too little or too much sleep, is the first sign of severe mental health issues, including depression,” she observed. “Sleep helps restore the levels of happy hormones like dopamine and endorphins in the body.”
Dr Chivate also pointed out that mental health issues often manifest in the form of physical ailments known as psychosomatic diseases. “There are so many cases where people have gastric problems for which doctors can’t find any underlying reason,” she said. “As a last resort, such patients are sent to us and we find that some mental health issue like anxiety is the cause of the disease.”
When counsellors at the centres get an emergency situation, they first try to discourage the caller from doing anything untoward. They then encourage them to go to the nearest government hospital, where the doctors are also informed about the case details. Ten beds have been reserved for patients suffering from psychiatric diseases in every district hospital.
“Mental health issues, especially insomnia, have an adverse effect on the productivity of the person as well,” said Dr Lale. “If we can intervene through counselling, diet, exercise or even medication, we can also increase the productivity of the person which, in turn, can help boost their confidence and stop them from overthinking.” He added that overthinking about future problems is part of another vicious cycle that is both the cause and effect of anxiety and depression among many people.
Intervention is also available at the primary health centres in the state, 1491 of which now have Manashakti Kendras to provide help to helpline callers. By March, the remaining 400 or so primary health centres will also have the necessary human resources.