In a one-of-its-kind attempt, the state government is looking at controlling farmer suicides by getting psycho analysis questionnaires filled by them and subsequently treat them for depression, wherever required.
The new initiative under the mental health cell of the public health department is in a bid to reduce farmer deaths across the 14 districts that have been massively hit by drought in Maharashtra.
“We will train 20,350 accredited social health activists (ASHA) for identifying depressed farmers and referring them for further treatment at district or taluka levels. Depending on the grade of severity, requisite treatment will be decided,” said Dr Manish Renghe, who is attached with the mental health cell at Directorate of Health Services (DHS).
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The programme is in its last lap of receiving state government sanction, following which the training process would commence. ASHA workers are local women residents known to the villagers and are educated till Std VIII. They will visit farmers from door to door and get a set of 16 questions answered in a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ format.
The questions, prepared by a four-member committee of psychiatrists will revolve around the farmer’s crop produce, any existing disease that they might have, whether they have enough food to eat, financial crisis and remarks of family members.
The ASHA workers will be taught to grade the farmer’s mental state under ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ categories.
“Only the head of the family and earning members will be identified and checked for depression. If they are found under the ‘severe’ category, they will be referred to the civil hospital. Mild and moderate cases will be handled at public health centres or district hospitals,” said Dr Kapil Ahir, assistant director at DHS.
The 14 districts under the programme are Aurangabad, Jalna, Nanded, Parbhani, Beed, Osmanabad, Latur, Hingoli, Wardha, Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Washim and Yavatmal.
The DHS will initiate the process of appointing six additional posts, such as social worker, psychiatrist, data entry operator, clinical psychologist, community nurse, and accountant at every district for the programme.
According to Dr Satish Pawar, director at DHS, the programme started two months ago on a pilot basis in Yavatmal and Osmanabad where maximum cases of farmers’ suicides were reported.
“ASHA workers have started identifying farmers in need of care in the districts. Once, we have psychiatrists everywhere, the process will become smoother,” Renghe said.