India’s 1st National Mental Health Helpline ‘Kiran’ Open to Calls

The helpline is a giant step towards suicide prevention, and can help with support and crisis management.

Updated
Mind It
4 min read
“It’s all in your head they say,” were lines from Raghav’s poetry. He died from suicide at age 18. 
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(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)

India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates and now, has finally got its first national mental health helpline (1800-599-0019). Although the official launch date was to be 27 August, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment announced that it has been postponed.

On Friday, 4 September, the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment issued a press release announcing the virtual launch of the helpline by Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot on Monday, 7 September.

Still, the line is operational and open to calls on a trial basis, although the date of the official inauguration remains uncertain.

For Raashi Thakran, the fact that this helpline is out there at all, is a personal victory. A mental health advocate and marketing executive at YourDost, Raashi, lost her 18-year-old brother to suicide in early 2019.

FIT did a video with Rashi on the stories of families surviving a loved one's suicide.

After the incident left Raashi heartbroken and confused, she researched furiously on suicide, trying to find answers. "But what I found left me more heartbroken,” she says.

“The number that shows up on Google when you type suicide is invalid. What if Raghav called them and took that as a sign? I wish he had a number to call.”
Raashi Thakran, Marketing Executive, YourDost

From places of great pain comes an unparalleled determination, and Raashi started a Change.org petition addressed to Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan to create a national helpline for suicide.

And just over a year later, the Central government has created a helpline number (1800-599-0019) called ‘Kiran’.

India’s First 24/7 National Mental Health Rehabilitation Helpline

The helpline aims to provide early screening, first-aid, psychological support, distress management, mental well-being, and psychological crisis management and will be managed by the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD).

It will be supported by 660 volunteers, clinical and rehabilitation psychologists and 668 volunteer psychiatrists plus 75 other experts at 25 helpline centres, and will be coordinated by the National Institute for the Empowerment of Persons with Multiple Disabilities (NIEPMD, Chennai) and the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR, Sehore).

Raashi, overjoyed at the news, adds,

“We finally have a National helpline number which is backed by the ministry. This is a huge step by the government in the right direction. This helpline number will operate through 25 institutions in 13 different languages which is huge, and will make it more accessible!”
Raashi Thakran, Marketing Executive, YourDost

This is a major step in the right direction towards suicide prevention. It is surprising that India lacked a national helpline number, and what is even more disturbing is the fact that many numbers were defunct or run by insensitive staff.

Raashi adds that during her research, she called 15 numbers but only 3 responded. The absence of a free helpline number leaves many, especially the financially vulnerable, at risk of suicide.

In an earlier interview with Dr Pathare, a consultant psychiatrist at ILS, he said that suicide prevention needs a multi-pronged, multi-sectoral approach. We need more affordable, accessible mental healthcare support - currently, we have only 0.3 psychiatrists and .07 psychologists per 100,000 population.

A free, accessible helpline then, is a giant leap towards providing quality care and interventions at the right moment, although Raashi hopes the helpline doesn't become defunct. “I tried calling, and it was very comprehensive, I spoke to a psychologist who was very empathetic and helpful.” She hopes that the Ministry will do regular audits to ensure that the objectives are met, and if necessary take corrective measures.

Does it Work?

FIT called up the number to test it out, and despite a few technical glitches, we managed to speak to a trained counselor. The helpline asks if you want help in Hindi, English, or any regional languages. It then asks which region and city you are from, and then connects you after about a minute. I did end up dialing the wrong city and had to rework the whole process, and the wait time can definitely be worked upon. There is one toll-free number that then connects to regional numbers.

I was connected to a counselor from Maharashtra who said,

“The helpline is operational on a trial basis, and people are using it, although the inauguration will happen in a few days. It has been delayed from 27 August.”

She added that the people who ran it were professionals from various backgrounds like speech and language pathologists, psychologists, special educators, etc. “We are expecting all sorts of queries, not just related to mental health or disability or COVID-19 but even on lockdown rules and schemes.”

The counselor also tells me that the professionals are trained from the National Institue and other regional institutes and were further trained to run the helpline as well.

I was randomly paired with this counselor but did ask what happens if I have a specific query, say relating to mental health and disability. She told me that the person from Kiran would then suggest I call back at a time when a specifically trained counselor was free. “This is the plan, for now, we are just testing this out,” she adds.

Hopefully, the technical issues are worked upon and the number gets officially launched soon so that it can reach those who need it the most at the earliest.

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