We are recommending an easy-to-setup and easy-to-access comprehensive “Community and Individual Mental Health Access and Support System” (CIMHASS) to address the increased mental health trauma within the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. This will be a protoype project that could be easily replicated in other communities and cities across India.

The global pandemic COVID-19 has impacted every community across the planet and has profoundly disrupted the ways in which we live and work. Many of us are understandably stressed, confused, frightened, and even hopeless.

A study published in the Jama Psychiatry journal shows that efforts to reduce human contact to a minimum in order to prevent the infection from spreading may eventually flatten the curve and slow down the virus, but it may pose another issue which might be a little more complicated to deal with – a surge in suicides (and mental health trauma). Therefore, it is no surprise that, according to New18.com, Suicide Prevention Helplines (in India) are getting more calls. These calls are from people who are either suicidal or severely distressed due to the uncertainty and isolation caused by the pandemic. 

Most of us are leading isolated lives right now and psychologists fear that may be causing irreparable damage to our mental health. It is important to highlight that panic, depression, anxiety and paranoia have become more common among people who already battle mental health issues.According to clinical psychologist Michael Kyrios, “how we each respond to stressful situations depends largely on our personal circumstances and personality.” When people who are uncertain of themselves, or lack trust in others or external factors, or are unable to control the severity of the circumstances they find themselves in, they are going to be highly prone to mental health trauma. According to Jake Mills of The Independent, the “lockdown misery is turning the viral pandemic into a mental health crisis” globally. 

The primary goal would be to provide ongoing mental health counseling and therapy to 125 to 175 individuals who are identified as experiencing mental health trauma and who need immediate help. The individuals will receive comprehensive therapy for a twelve-week period. The project will engage 25-30 highly qualified and experienced clinical psychologists, mental health therapists and clinical social workers to participate in this project. They will be asked to commit to volunteering five to six hours per week for the twelve-week period of this project. 

Additionally, the project will hire 15 caseworkers that will also serve as cultural-liaisons and as “community health specialists” for the duration of the project. Each caseworker will work with 8 to 12 individuals or families based on need.

Keeping the barriers of the lockdown in mind and the need to participate in social distancing, we will implement the entire project using online technologies such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, etc. This will make the services of the mental health experts accessible even though they may be present in another part of the country (or, even another part of the world). Additionally, we intend to develop a comprehensive website with mental health resources for anyone from across the country to access

This is a high impact project with low to minimal financial investment and basic technological infrastructure. The hope is that this project can be replicated in other regions and other languages in India. The protocol manuals and the training manuals can be easily translated to other languages and can be easily made available to similar projects that start in other regions of the state and/or country.

One of the commendable aspects of this project is that it can be scaled up or scaled down quite easily. It can easily be scaled up either by recruiting more mental professionals to volunteer their professional services or by hiring mental professional to work more hours each week and to help more individuals. While scaling up, it would be important to hire more case workers as we believe that each caseworker must have only 8-12 individuals/families to work with. 

The expectation is that within the first 4 weeks, anyone who is receiving dedicated mental health professional support will begin to realize the value of such help to support and to strengthen their mental health. Such professional help along with much needed social caseworkers helping them, will make a huge difference in pulling their mental health together. Offering such support for eight more weeks will help each individual and/or each family to reach a sustainable place of self-reliance and self-sufficiency which they do need in life in general and especially during such fragile times as the pandemic.