Mental health database for Soanagachi sex workers

Kolkata : Six sex workers of Sonagachi, Asia’s largest red light area in the city, have been trained by professional psychiatrists to provide inputs for a comprehensive database of the mental health condition of sex workers.

This is the first such initiative aimed at combatting mental distress, depression among sex workers.

The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), an NGO working for the development and uplift of the sex workers of the state, in coordination with an NGO have formed the team of six sex workers for the project.

They have been trained by psychiatrists to look for symptoms of mental distress among sex workers and initiate early stages of counselling.

These trained sex workers, who have been christened as “PR Counsellors”, will provide inputs for the database by reaching out to the maximum number of sex workers through one-to-one interactions.

Presently there are 11,000 sex workers residing in Sonagachi and an additional 2,000 flying sex workers operate from that area.

“In this profession of sex trade, women face a lot of harassment and exploitation. At times, it leads to acute depression and mental distress and suicidal tendency on some occasions.

“So we have been toying with the idea of compiling a complete database of mental health for sex workers. Now we have started this project,” principal of Sonagachi Research and Training Institute (SRTI) Samarjit Jana told .

The project is being conducted in three stages.

In the first stage, a team has been trained as “PR Counsellors” by professional psychiatrists and an NGO, to look for symptoms of mental distress among sex workers to initiate initial stages of counseling.

“Secondly, the team has been given a questionnaire and a list of symptoms. Now their job is to visit each and every house of the sex workers, talk to them, ask them the questions and try to find out the symptoms,” Jana said.

If they find something is not in order, they convince the sex workers for a counselling session at ‘Durbar’, where they are initially counselled by this team.

Then a specialized team, comprising psychiatrists and doctors, takes over the case and conducts the required treatment, he said.

In the last one month, a survey has been carried out among 200 sex workers and of them, a section has been imparted counselling sessions by the psychiatrist, he said.

“We are targeting to reach out to around 500-600 sex workers in the area, on the basis of which we will prepare a sample survey database and after that we will move towards preparing a comprehensive database,” he said.

Demonetization, exploitation by customers and “pseudo husbands” were some of the main reasons for the mental distress among the sex workers.

“Demonetization has led to lot of financial problems among the sex workers, which in turn has led to depression.

Sexual abuse from their family members during childhood, constant fear of social boycott are some of the others reasons,” Bharati Dey, the chief mentor of ‘Durbar’, told .