PESHAWAR: Months after a woman marched into a police station in the provincial capital and attempted suicide by setting herself on fire, the government has decided to take definitive action, proposing a comprehensive model of providing mental health services to female victims of violence who approach police stations to report the crimes.
Officials of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government who have been dealing with the matter said that that the provincial health department had forwarded a concept note to the provincial home and tribal affairs departments, suggesting practical measures which could be taken by the government to provide mental health services at police stations to those females of the province who fall victims to violence and seek out help from police stations.
As a pilot, the K-P home department is already operating women support desks at five police stations in Peshawar where they provide psychological support to victims who approach the desks.
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“Our objectives are to further improve the services currently being provided at the desks, make them more effective and to workout modalities to provide secure environment to the visiting victims who are already scared, stigmatised and unsure of taking action against perpetrators,” said an official of the health department, adding that one of the prerequisites for the system to work is to provide highly secure environment and to have someone who genuinely listens to the victims and then process their fears and irrational thoughts into a coherent report and then inculcate strength in them to follow through with legal procedures.
According to the document, both the psychological (psychotherapeutic) and psychiatric (psychopharmacological) services can be provided to the victims depending upon their needs, but a majority of cases could be helped by providing psychotherapy to recover while and in a small number of cases medications or hospitalisation would be required.
The model proposed by the health department recommends training female police officers at the police stations to identify the warning signs of mental health issues and to provide necessary Psychological First Aid (PFA) to these victims at first contact.
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It further recommends that a telemedicine programme, offered by the Services Hospital, called “SPOKE,” can be linked to the five police stations to provide telepsychiatry services.
In telepsychiatry, a toll-free number is provided where people can call and talk to a psychiatrist from the comfort of their home, especially to such women who fear coming forward due to social taboos and rejection.
Furthermore, it suggests a psychologist and a psychiatrist may be assigned to the Services Hospital to ensure the provision of initial psychological services to the staff in the police station on dealing with the victim and psychiatric services to women with severe mental health issues.
The victim could be linked to a psychologist in the hospital or at the Psychosocial Support Centers (PFCs) upon their subsequent visit or prolonged stay.
It adds that the health department’s mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) programme has six psychosocial support centres (PFCs) functional in Peshawar where senior and junior psychologists are providing psychotherapeutic services.
These PFCs, it suggested, could be linked with the police department for referring clients for long-term support on a need basis.
It adds that the Services Hospital could be a more ethically appropriate place for the victims to come for therapy sessions rather than a police station considering cultural factors.
The document also seeks replication of the arrangements in District Headquarter Hospitals, linked with Psychosocial Support Centres to be established under MHPSS and any police stations to which the programme has been extended.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2018.