Union Budget 2022: Govt rolls out national tele-mental health programme amid Covid pandemic

With the Covid-19 pandemic negatively affecting mental health and triggering an exponential rise of mental health issues among the vulnerable population groups, the Centre on Tuesday announced the roll-out of the national tele-mental health programme.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during the Budget speech in Parliament, announced that a national tele-mental health programme will be launched, that will be operated under a network of twenty-three mental health centres of excellence under the country’s premier mental health institute — NIMHANS.

The rollout comes in the backdrop of growing scientific evidence that shows mental health sequels post Covid-19 infection. During the pandemic, patients have been reporting anxiety and depression, as well as ‘Long Covid’, where recovered patients experience brain fog and are not able to think clearly, and also have neurological symptoms.

Sitharaman announced that IIIT Bangalore will provide technology support for the specialised tele-consultation services. “The pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages. To better the access to quality mental health counselling and care services, a National Tele Mental Health programme will be launched,” Sitharaman said.

During the pandemic, the centre for psychosocial support in disaster management at NIMHANS launched a nationwide toll-free 24×7 helpline to address the mental health and psychosocial concerns of the public during the pandemic and lockdown. Currently, the government is also operating the SAMVEDNA tele-counselling service that offers psychological support to children to address their stress, anxiety, fear, and other issues during the pandemic.

During the speech, Sitharaman also announced the rollout of an open platform for the national health ecosystem. She said that digital ecosystem will comprises of exhaustive list of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework and universal access to health facilities.

Currently, the government is creating Ayushman Bharat Health Account (ABHA) — a randomly generated 14 digit number that can be used for the purposes of uniquely identifying persons, authenticating them, and reading their health records, only with informed consent — across multiple systems and stakeholders.

Meanwhile, with India’s fully vaccinated coverage crossing the 75 per cent mark, Sitharaman underlined that impetus to the vaccination drive has facilitated the economic growth in the country. “We are in the midst of the Omicron wave, the speed of our vaccination campaign has helped greatly. I am confident that ‘Sabka Prayas’, we’ll continue with strong growth,” she said.

Sitharaman also highlighted that 95 per cent of 112 aspirational districts have made tremendous progress in various indices, including health.

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