To prevent suicides of farmers arising out of indebtedness, the state health department is initiating steps to identify farmers who show signs of depression and provide them immediate treatment.
The state health minister Deepak Sawant is now roping in ASHA workers to identify such farmers in the state’s drought-hit zones.
ASHA or Accredited Social Health Activists are rural medical health volunteers and perform a key outreach function under the Union government’s National Health Mission.
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The process will first start in five talukas of Yavatmal (Vidarbha region) and Osmanabad (Marathwada region), where the highest farmer suicides have been reported.
“The whole programme is still in discussion phase. But the idea is to send ASHA workers to each and every household to identify farmers coping with mental distress. Their job is to identify and refer the case to medical officers,” said Sawant.
One ASHA worker caters to a population of 1,000 and is responsible for providing basic medical help to locals.
They will now be trained in assessing the mental illness symptoms in farmers suffering from physical disability, financial burden, addiction or crop failure woes.
Earlier this year, the state also launched toll-free mental health helpline 104 for people wishing anonymity and free counselling services.
The state Directorate of Health Services (DHS) is now training medical and para-medical staff to handle mental illness cases at rural level.
“Once the ASHA worker identifies a case, they will pass on the case to medical officer. We will start training of medical officers so that they can at least give proper medication to patients,” said Dr Sadhna Tayde, head of the mental health department at DHS.
A team of psychiatrists and counsellors from Mumbai and Pune will be sent to both the districts to train the officers. According to Sawant, once the pilot project succeeds, it will be expanded to all the 35 districts in the state.