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News : Most Calls to State Mental Health Helpline from Victims of Domestic Abuse
Mumbai, India, March 18, 2015 -- Rudimentary data collected by the state public health department through the newly-launched mental health helpline number 104 has found that sexual abuse remains a top cause of mental distress for women. Since its launch a fortnight ago, the maximum calls received by the helpline operators have been on issues such as domestic violence and sexual assault, followed by calls on children’s issues or adolescence-related issues.
The service has received 99 calls until March 9, of which 22 calls were on issues related to women and 19 were issues pertaining children such as peer pressure, exam stress and getting bullied by seniors.
"Available data suggests that 11 per cent people suffer from mental distress and only two per cent are undergoing treatment for it. Several people struggle with mental ailments but do not come out of the closet. The helpline was launched to address them," said Dr Manish Renghe, in charge of the mental health cell in Maharashtra’s public health department.
The helpline allows callers to talk anonymously. A total of five counsellors — two women and three men trained at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) — have currently been posted, with each spending approximately half an hour or more with every individual caller.
Most of the callers were from a rural background, with complaints of daily domestic violence. "Their cause of distress is the mental hurt caused by their partner and if they have a child, they worry about what will happen to the kid. On the phone, we can counsel and make them feel better, that is the most we can do," said Maitryee Sambhus, one of the counselors at the 104 service.
In cases additional support is needed, the callers are referred to the nearest social welfare center or to the closest hospital in case of physical injuries. "We also try to reach out to their families to discuss how to provide support system to the female victim," Sambhus added.
While the helpline was launched to address depression, mental health problems, counselors admitted they are surprised at the high number of calls on physical abuse. "Physical abuse can also cause mental harassment. Several girls share how they were intimate with their lovers and were left after having a physical relationship," a counselor said.
Admitting that domestic violence creates huge mental trauma, Chitra Joshi, attached with Dilasa, a center for violence against women, said that while the helpline reaches out to a particular socio-economic strata of the society, it is also necessary to counsel these victims in person. "Phone counseling is very tough, and it is important that the victim is referred to closest center for further assistance." At Dilasa, she said that several women from affluent families also call to discuss about the physical abuse they are subjected to, but are often reluctant to come when called at the center by the counselor.
The public health department will now further segregate calls on women-related issues to gauge and tackle each problem differently. With several calls coming in from rural pockets, a decision to set up more referral centers may be taken following data analysis.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Friday, March 20, 2015