India is standing on the threshold of a mental health epidemic with more number of people affected by mental health issues in India than the entire population of Japan. According to 2015-16 National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) survey, every sixth person in India needs mental health help. To compound the problem, India has just about 5,000 psychiatrists and less than 2,000 clinical psychologists. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Dr Neelesh Tiwari, Neuropsychiatrist and chairman of World Brain Centre says, “According to the NMHS survey, lower income group people suffer more from mental health problems and these are the people with least access to mental health treatment. Have you ever thought that the maid who works in your home, the sweeper who keeps your lane clean, and the rickshaw puller who takes you places may need mental health treatment support? Poverty, domestic violence, alcohol and drug addiction and the very stigma of being underprivileged take a toll on these people.”
Dr P C Rai, Geriatric Health Expert of IVHSeniorCare adds, “Mental health problems affect all age groups. It is distressing that on one hand the children and youth of the country suffer from anxiety, panic attacks and performance issues and on the other, ~22% of elderly in India suffer from depression – a figure much higher than the global average of 4 to 16%. Studies have established that chances of death due to heart attack or stroke is higher in elderlies with depression.”
Commenting on the key reasons that may be resulting in increased mental health issues, Dr Neelesh Tiwari adds, “The common man in India struggles with balancing family responsibilities and work pressure. Owing to decreasing time to socialize and de-stress – the built-up pressure is not finding a vent. Many couples are unhappy in their relationships but never visit a counsellor for help. With the rising trend of nuclear families, children are growing up with both parents working, sometimes in different cities. Family counselling is unheard of concept in India. While social media keeps people connected, it builds additional pressure to project only the best. The tolerance level of people is reducing which is evident with rising cases of road rage. Despite this alarming scenario in India, mental health continues to be a taboo topic with the immense stigma attached to it. While, people brag about their medical conditions like heart disease, surgeries, ICU stays etc, they treat mental health problem like a guilty secret to be pushed under the carpet. People do not know the difference between a mental health issue and madness. Also, our films and comedy shows have stereotyped mental health as something that is either dangerous or something to be ridiculed. The need is to talk about mental health – not just in conference halls, but in living rooms as well.”
The will to opt for mental health treatment is not the only issue. Despite the ‘Mental Health Care Bill 2016’ mandating state governments to make mental healthcare affordable for all, treatment cost continues to be high and beyond the reach of common man. Mental health schemes and mental healthcare are far from meeting the standards followed in the western world. Dr P. C. Rai adds, “India needs a strong and sustainable awareness drive around mental health supported by accessible and affordable mental health treatment solutions. We need to explore options like district, city, state and national level programs which follow multiple approaches – online, on-ground and hybrid. We need to build and sustain safe and affordable spaces for rehabilitation of mental health patients like the recently inaugurated National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation.”
Today, India needs to open up and talk about mental health problems. We need to teach our young that having a mental health issue is normal and not taboo. We need people to identify mental health issue symptoms in their young ones, peers or elderly and act on it. India needs to advance in the way it approaches and accepts mental health issues as part of everyday life.