The population of Manipur according to 2001 Census is 2,166,788. Of this 741,141 are Scheduled Tribes (STs), which constitutes 34.2 per cent of the total population of the state. There are a total of twenty nine (29) notified Scheduled Tribes in the state. One such tribe is the Vaiphei tribe with a population of 38,267.
Kimneihat Vaiphei, 28, is a young and dynamic woman who has the distinction of being the first and only person from the Vaiphei tribe to have an M.Phil in ‘Psychiatric Social Work’ and who is currently pursuing PhD in the same stream from NIMHANS, Bangalore along with working there as a Psychiatric social worker in ‘Adult Psychiatry’. Her PhD thesis topic is “Psycho-social needs of women with injectable drug use”. The North-eastern states of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland report the highest incidence of drug abuse in the country due to the proximity to the golden triangle-the three drug producing countries of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. But, as of yet, there has been negligible research carried out concerning the mental health of drug users especially the female drug users. In this context, Ms. Vaiphei’s doctoral research is a sort of pioneering work that will help in addressing the issue of drug abuse more effectively. Here are excerpts from an interview with Ms. Vaiphei where she talks about her work and what it entails for spearheading the campaign against the menace of drugs in her homeland.
VP: Why is there such a high incidence of drug abuse in the North-east, especially Manipur?
KV: The north –east state of Manipur is characterized by political instability, unemployment, and easy availability of heroin from across the Myanmar border. They are classified by the NACO as high prevalence states for HIV, and Intravenous drug use is an important cause of HIV transmission. The IDU population constitutes 1.9 to 2.7% of the adult population. In 2005 the HIV prevalence among IDUs in Manipur was reported to be 24%.
VP: Tell us more about your work as a Psychiatric Social Worker:
As a PSW, we help patients who are in need of psycho-social intervention with psychosocial issues- mild depression, suicide, drug abuse, family discord, to a major psychiatric disorder and so on. We work in terms of individual, family as well as community level. In NIMHANS, we work as a multi disciplinary team consisting of psychiatrist, psychiatric Social worker, Psychologist and Psychiatric Nurses. Each department has a unique role to play, as a psychiatric Social Worker we are involved in catering to the needs of psychosocial issues- of the individual, family and community, training & capacity building, policy making, community level intervention, and so on.
VP: Could you brief us on some specific cases you worked on in your capacity as a PSW.
KV: I do an extensive study on Drug addiction in Manipur which involves research on anxiety and depression among college students; and sexual attitude, behavior and knowledge among college students. I’m also doing my PhD on Psychosocial needs of Women with ID use.
VP: How did you decide the topic for your doctoral research?
KV: Lots of studies have been done on Substance use/ Drug use. However, study on mental health issues has not been looked upon especially in Women and the North eastern states of India.
VP: As you say that the aspect of drug abuse on mental health has not been much looked upon. Then why not look into it in totality? Why the focus on women especially in your research?
KV: Women are more vulnerable and susceptible to the dreadful HIV/AIDS; STI STDs due to various factors- biological vulnerabilities, social stigma, gender differences, economical strain and so on.
VP: What is the relevance of your research?
KV: The focus as of now is on Safer Sex practices, Syringe Exchange programme, Harm reduction programme etc., which helps in sensitization and awareness. However the psychological needs or the mental health has not been explored nor been looked upon much. This study would be helpful in understanding the psychosocial needs, their coping strategies, support system, and their quality of life and so on. After understanding this core issue, I would plan for an intervention based on the need.