Union Budget 2022: In her speech announcing the Union Budget for the year 2022-23, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the Tele Mental Health Programme to support people who have been facing deteriorating mental health, especially amid the pandemic. Hailing this proposal, Dr Pratima Murthy, Director of National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), said that the decision could be a “game-changer” for the situation of mental health care in India. In her speech, FM Sitharaman had noted that the coronavirus pandemic had led to an increase in the mental health problems of people across different age groups. As a remedy for this, she proposed the setting up of 23 tele mental health centres in the country, with NIMHANS acting as the nodal centre.
News agency ANI cited Dr Murthy as saying that the tele mental health centres could provide basic counselling to people who suffer from milder psychological distress, and that in itself would be a lot of help to the patients. She further said that many countries have shown that tele mental health support can lead to a lot of change and bring an improvement in outcomes. She added that this proposal, while not a substitute to in-person contact, had the potential to reach and benefit the most remote parts of the country, where people otherwise might not be able to get access to mental health care.
A mental health survey carried out by NIMHANS showed that 10.2% of the population suffered from diagnosable mental health problems or substance use disorder, she said.
The pandemic led to a widening of the gap in treatment for mental health. While issues like anxiety, depression and psychological distress increased in the population, COVID-19 also made it difficult for people with pre-existing mental health issues to get access to services and aids.
However, she also noted that in the past few years, people started to open up about mental health and openly discussed the issues they suffered from, helping in getting rid of the stigma around the topic.