The world is gearing up for World Health Day 2016, with WHO’s theme this year focusing on psychological first aid in situations of crisis or disasters, but it turns out that we are ill-equipped to even deal with mental illness on a day to day basis. Our country truly is in the throes of a mental health crisis, with conservative estimates stating that mental health problems affect over 70 million Indians. While that figure is bad in itself, the real numbers may be considerably higher and we also have to contend with a scarcity of psychiatrists. According to a report that appeared in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, India is home to just 4000 psychiatrists, which roughly puts the doctor to patient ratio at an abysmal 1:400,000; yes, you read that right – we just have one psychiatrist for every 4 lakh mental health patients!
Attitudes Towards Mental Health Care In India
“Even among urban populations, where mental health care is seen as necessary, the attitude is to see it as necessary for others, but not for oneself”
Untreated mental illness drastically increases the risk of inflicting physical harm on others, suicide, and substance abuse and addiction. Despite this, there is still a huge stigma attached with seeking psychiatric treatment. Even among urban populations, where mental health care is seen as necessary, the attitude is generally to see it as necessary for others, but not for oneself. This problem is pervasive not just in lower socio-economic groups, but among highly educated members of society too, where mental health care is often trivialized. With such an attitude towards mental health it is no surprise that India ranks 118th on the UN’s World Happiness Report, while reports, from WHO, point to it’s being the most depressed country in the world!
“Suicide is the third largest cause of death in the 15-35 years age group in the country, while India accounts for 32 percent of the world’s suicides”
Don’t believe us? The figures from India’s census report speak for themselves – suicide is the most common cause of death among 15-28 year olds and the 9th most common cause of death in 30-69 year olds, while India accounts for 32 percent of the world’s suicides. And that’s despite our regressive and punitive attitude towards those who attempt to take their life, although the judiciary finally stepped in as it recognized suicide or attempted suicide as a mental health problem rather than a legal one.
The Sorry State Of Mental Health Care In India
“Only half of all Indians with severe mental health disorders receive appropriate care, while only 10 percent of those with more common ailments like depression and anxiety disorders seek treatment”
Awareness and accessibility to mental health care is so poor across much of India that experts believe that only half of all Indians with severe mental health disorders receive appropriate treatment, while only 10 percent of those with more common ailments like depression and anxiety disorders seek treatment. If we were to ignore major psychiatric disorders, the picture of mental health in India in fact appears even more bleak, as estimates suggests that 1 in 5 people are in need of counseling, either psychiatric or psychological.
You’re probably already feeling overwhelmed with all of these shocking figures, but here are some more figures that should highlight the serious attention that mental health in India requires:
Depression is the most common mental health illness, affecting an estimated 3 percent of India’s urban population.
Dementia, which is a serious mental illness, affects an estimated fifty million Indians, with half of all dementia cases involving Alzheimer’s.
Roughly 9 percent of India’s children and teenagers are afflicted with mental health disorders.
According to some experts, India also just has 1,000 licensed psychologists for our population of 1.2 billion!
15 percent of the global burden of mental health disease rests on India.
35 lakh Indians require hospitalization for mental health conditions, but we have just 40 institutions to treat them.
Can India Ever Overcome The Mental Health Problem?
“The fact that we are more willing to discuss the problem today in itself bodes well for the future of mental health in India”
While the current state of mental health care may be depressing and make you want to throw your hands up in despair, a large part of the problem is not just with poor infrastructure, but with societal attitudes as well. While we are slowly making progress on the infrastructure front, changes in social attitudes and increasing awareness about mental health conditions is helping break the stigma, albeit slowly. Celebrities who have broken their silence on mental health issues have been instrumental in highlighting the importance of seeking treatment for mental health ailments, whether for milder problems like obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders, or for more severe conditions like schizophrenia and alzheimer’s. The fact that we are more willing to discuss the problem today in itself bodes well for the future of mental health in India. What’s important now is to recognize the very real risks of mental health issues affecting each of us, so that we can seek help for ourselves and for loved ones when needed.
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