December 17, 2016 2:50:44 am
At Goa’s Bicholim village, Sunaina Harlankar (42), counsels patients with depression or alcohol addiction with the deftness of a professional. Harlankar, interestingly, is a commerce graduate and a homemaker with no professional mental health care experience. She is one of 11 people recruited for two randomised control trials in Goa to work as “lay counsellors” to tackle the massive burden of harmful drinking and depression.
About conselling patients, she said: “I need to respect the patient first and then offer psychological therapy. It was tough at first, but the rigorous training I was offered has made me confident.”
On Thursday, medical journal The Lancet published online that these lay counselling services have helped reduce symptoms of severe depression, reported higher remission rates and even abstinence from alcohol.
Six weeks ago, the Centre reported in the national mental health survey that one in 20 adults in the country is affected by depression, and nearly one in 10 adult men by harmful drinking. Together, the two disorders affect 65 million Indian adults.
The two trials are funded by UK-based global charitable foundation, Wellcome Trust, and conducted in Goa as part of the Programme for Effective Mental Health Interventions in Under-Resourced Health Systems (PREMIUM). The trials assess the effectiveness of a brief psychological treatment for harmful drinking and depression, delivered by “lay counsellors” in primary care.
Dr Vikram Patel, psychiatrist and principal researcher for the trials, told The Indian Express that the treatment gap for both disorders in the country is a staggering 85 per cent. “One-third of the global burden of mental illness is in India and China, which is more than in all the high-income countries put together. Yet, in both India and China, less than 1 per cent of the national healthcare budget has been allocated to mental health care,” he said.
Patel, who is also principal research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and other researchers devised a cost-effective solution to the shortage of trained mental health specialists in the country.
“The treatment is brief, delivered by non-health specialists and provided at routine primary health care settings. The aim of the trials is to address the lack of mental health professionals in India. According to estimates, there are just 5,000 psychologists and psychiatrists in the country, but most are working in cities. Few of them provide psychological therapies,” Patel said.
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