The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Suicide spate exposes counsellor crisis

Calcutta, Aug. 13: Jolted by two suicides in five days in crowded hospital wards, the health department decided on counselling depressed patients in state-run hospitals, only to discover that they did not have enough psychologists to push the plan through.

On Monday, 25-year-old Manika Dutta hanged herself in the bathroom of the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Beliaghata. Four days ago, Sandhya Naskar killed herself in a similar fashion at Sambhunath Pandit Hospital. Both patients had a history of suicidal tendencies, but the hospitals did not seem to have thought about counselling them.

But the ambitious programme proved a non-starter. The government has only five psychologists to work with at the moment. Three are working in two state-run mental hospitals in Calcutta and one each at the Institute of Psychiatry in SSKM hospital and at NRS hospital.

Waking up to the problem at hand, director of health services Prabhakar Chatterjee announced the government would “appoint clinical psychologists” in every hospital in Calcutta and the districts. “We have asked the hospital authorities to start a counselling programme for all patients with suicidal tendencies and we have decided to appoint clinical psychologists in hospitals for this purpose,” Chatterjee said.

According to health experts, psychologists play a crucial role as they are the ones who spend time with patients inside hospitals and help them overcome depression. Psychiatrists draw up the counselling procedure for them.

Although most medical colleges in the major cities have psychologists up to the rank of assistant professors, the government here never thought about inducting psychologists in teaching positions, until now. Therefore, it is left to psychiatrists to perform all the tasks themselves.

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