New Delhi: 

The Centre has urged states and Union Territories to put in place and strengthen mechanisms to spread awareness about rising psychosocial concerns among people during Covid-l9, saying acceptance of mental health issues is relatively low due to the stigma attached.

Asserting that mental health services including advocacy and awareness campaigns should essentially become part of the government's response to Covid-19, Union Health Secretary Preeti Sudan also stressed on the need to bring mental health issues to foreground and make them accepted as common ailments.

In a letter addressed to Chief Secretaries and the administrators of all states and UTs, Sudan said that psychosocial concerns cut across age groups and segments of the population and that it is imperative that all the care providers including volunteers, police and all frontline workers are aware and equipped with the appropriate training.

The country is grappling with the challenge of Covid-l9 and concerns relating to mental health, manifested in feelings of fear, anxiety, negative thoughts about consequences of disease and subsequent depression are being raised, Sudan said in the letter, dated July 6.

"Incidence and prevalence of mental health issues, however, tend to be higher in the urban areas, and even more skewed towards the metropolitan cities. While there may be many causative factors to this reality, declining social support in the nuclear families and restricted social networking due to Covid-19 are among important reasons.

"The identification and acceptance of mental health issues is relatively low due to the stigma attached with it," she said in the letter.

Given the above factors, it is imperative to focus on preventive aspects of mental healthcare and early detection, Sudan underlined.

The common signs and symptoms of the depression and anxiety need to be discussed openly so that anybody who starts facing the problem is able to identify, accept and seek help. Lack of knowledge and ignorance is what aggravates the problem, she said.

"Keeping above in view, I request you to put in place and strengthen mechanisms for amplifying awareness about mental health through existing communication materials… initiate screening and address mental health issues for those in need, improve help seeking behaviour on mental health related issues by sensitising people and health care workers," she said.

Sudan shared some of the steps taken by the Ministry to address them which include setting up of helpline (080-4611 0007), in collaboration with National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) to provide psychosocial support by mental health professionals.

It also includes onboarding of 20 states on the national psychosocial support helpline, the letter said, stating that remaining States/UTs are also encouraged to join the helpline in order to expand its reach.