While Maharashtra reported more than 40 per cent of the total number of farmer suicides in the country last year, and 57 suicide cases have been reported from the state in the three months so far this year, a few lives may have been saved by counsellors at the state health advice call centre operated from Pune.”
“We received 2,089 calls (from farmers identified to be suffering from depression) between October 2015 and March 31 this year, and 60 were (found) with suicidal tendencies. Our counsellors had long chats with them and explained what crops can be grown in a drought-prone region that does not require (much) water,” Nirja Banker, coordinator of call centre said.
The idea to get farmers suffering from depression to get counselling was sparked by a massive survey launched by the state government in October last year. In the last four months, the survey has identified 2.95 lakh farmers with significant health problems. Of them, 4,607 were found suffering from depression, 15,622 had hypertension and another 14,808 were identified with diabetes.
A further 1,165 were identified with ischaemic heart disease (a condition that affects the supply of blood to the heart), 1,191 were found to have suffered stroke, 402 had significant renal problems that could require dialysis, and another 82 were identified with cancer.
In all, nearly 4.26 lakh farmers were screened — by more than 19,000 accredited social health activists (ASHA workers), who underwent training in conducting the survey with special questionnaires. They visited homes of 4.75 lakh farmers in 14 drought-prone, high-risk districts of Maharashtra from October 2015”
“Ninety per cent of the survey is complete and these findings are now helping us set up a comprehensive farmer health programme,” Dr Sadhana Tayade, Additional Director (mental health), told The Indian Express.
Dr Manish Renghe, Assistant Director (mental health), said that by and large the farmers surveyed are impacted by drought and other agriculture-related issues, and this has led to stress-related health problems.
According to official data, 1,690 cases of farmer suicides were reported in 10 states in 2015. Maharashtra reported the maximum — 725 — followed by Punjab (449), Telangana (342), Karnataka (107) and Andhra Pradesh (58).
While the 57 farmers suicide reported so far this year gives indication of the severity of the situation, the alarming drought conditions does not bode well for the state this year. Marathwada had experienced drought even last year, but the situation was not as bad as this year.
In February 2015, average water availability in dams was 27 per cent – this year it is 6.5 per cent. Nearly 35 per cent of the state is in the grip of severe drought conditions this year, and 85 per cent of these villages are in Marathwada, north Maharashtra and Khandesh regions. Worse, this is the third year in the last four years that the state is staring at a drought. The rising numbers had prompted Maharashtra’s health department to set up a mental health scheme, Prerana, in 14 high-risk districts that have faced drought: Aurangabad, Jalna, Parbhani, Hingoli, Latur, Nanded, Akola, Amravati, Washim, Yavatmal, Wardha, Beed, Buldhana and Osmanabad. The department allocated Rs 7.6 crore towards this special assistance scheme, officials said.
About the survey, Dr Tavade said, “We have to screen the data and identify the range of farmers suffering from mild, moderate or severe depression.” While farmers who were in the mild-depression zone were referred to counselors, and ASHAs told to dial the state health advice call centre (104) to get them to counsellors, farmers identified as undergoing severe depression are referred to psychiatrists at district hospitals, Dr Renghe said.
Counselling and advice have helped, Banker claimed, as most farmers are told that they can send their daughters or sons for further programmes in animal husbandry and related agricultural courses. ASHAs were told to ask basic questions such as a farmer household’s income, whether he/she had taken a loan, the number of daughters each family had, and then a patient health questionnaire on a scale of 12 to measure the level of stress or anxiety in each household.