Mental Health In India: A Wake-Up Call
Mental Illness has been shrouded in stigma, ignorance and superstition since a long time in India. Instead of offering help to the mentally ill, most of us treat them with suspicion, ignorance or cold-hearted apathy. Mental Illness is rising at epidemic rates around the world, including India. WHO predicts that 20% of India’s population will suffer from some form of mental illness by the year 2020. We are woefully under-equipped to handle mental health issues on such a large scale. Currently, we have only 3,500 psychiatrists for the 20 million Indians suffering from mental illness. This means that there is one psychiatrist for more than ten thousand people; which is not even a proverbial drop in the ocean. As a mental health professional, social scientist and most importantly- as a fellow human being, it disturbs me to see the kind of indifference that has taken over our society today. The rising crime rate, rampant corruption and general unrest in people are clear signs that mental health and well-being needs our attention. This careless attitude toward mental health is mirrored by the government and medical institutions where mental health is regarded almost as an afterthought. Barely 1-2% of the health budget is dedicated to mental health, in comparison to 10 to 12% in other countries. In Medical colleges, students do a mere two week clinical posting at a psychiatry unit at the end of their training.
Psychiatry is not considered lucrative like other medical specialties. Psychology too is a misunderstood and ignored field in our country. It is not a surprise then that young people choose not to pursue mental health as a profession and we continue to treat mental illness like the white elephant in the room. The scenario is not all bleak though. Slowly but surely awareness regarding mental health issues is rising along with acceptance of mental health professionals. A greater number of people are willing to reach out to a mental health professional for a myriad range of problems – ranging from psychosis to emotional disturbances and life- adjustment issues. Medical advancements over the years ensure that the best treatment options are available to the mentally ill. The revised mental health bill has also been presented this year to the Rajya Sabha. This bill has much-awaited revisions with the aim of engendering a greater sense of dignity, rights and assistance to the mentally ill of our country. Many organizations have taken over the mantle of spreading awareness about mental health all over the country. That being said, there is a lot that needs to be done. Keeping in mind the paucity of trained mental health professionals, the need of the hour is for all our resources to come together. We need a dual approach that encompasses preventive and curative aspects of mental health and the only way to achieve this is through a partnership of the private and public sector. NGO’s, mental health professionals and the government need to join hands in reaching out the community and making a difference right from the grass-root level. Besides spreading awareness and reducing stigma associated with mental illness, we also need to focus on expanding the reach of mental health services to those who need them.
The only way of making this happen is to take responsibility and do our bit, together. 10th October is observed as World Mental Health day by the WHO, with the aim of spreading awareness about mental health issues all over the world. The theme for this year is ‘mental health and older adults’. With better medication, life expectancy is rising and so are the challenges associated with old age. Our elders are faced with increasing loneliness, a lack of social support and diminishing health that makes them extremely susceptible to mental illness like depression. We hope to increase both awareness and sensitivity about elders and the difficulties they face. The one thing we seem to lack as a community today is empathy.
This World Mental Health Day, let us just take some time out; to think, to feel and most importantly – to care. Fortis Healthcare is organizing a walk and talk on this World Mental Health Day (10th October 2013) at Gurgaon, Noida, Shalimar Bagh & Faridabad. In case you wish to be part of our initiative, register on our Facebook page