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Detangling India’s Mental Health Services

Human Civilisation has changed drastically over the past few centuries, especially in the last 100 years. New work disciplines, new work settings and new social environment have changed the lifestyle of human beings from what it used to be, say 50-100 years ago. These changes brought prosperity to humans but on the other hand, this lifestyle change brought in various new challenges too; deteriorating mental health being one of them.

A healthy person is described as someone who is in a state of physical, mental and social well-being. Worldwide, mental health is now being given as much importance as physical health. Developed countries are now spending huge amounts of public money on building and upgrading infrastructure required for mental health services. But what about India, a major growing economy in the world?

The situation of mental health services in India is, let’s be honest, outright horrible. A report by WHO revealed that 7.5% of India’s population suffers from some kind of mental illness. Also, India accounts for 15% of global mental, neurological and substance abuse-related disorders. It is said that per 100 patients, 10 doctors are needed but what we currently have is 2 doctors per 100 patients. Most of the possible patients here don’t even have access to basic healthcare facilities, let alone mental health services. Many people across communities and religions, do still believe that “demonic possession” is a thing and a look at the country’s top religious shrines will confirm this fact, while research suggests that “pathological spirit possession in South Asia has similar aetiology to multiple personality disorder in North America, which is caused by spontaneous trance reaction to the extreme situation in the environment, especially child abuse”. People have resorted to unscientific and potentially dangerous methods for “curing” the illness, rather than visiting a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

There are many factors responsible for such a grim situation. Firstly, the lack of awareness of psychological illnesses. People with mental illness don’t usually come up early due to the stigma attached to these disorders. “Pagal” is the one-word substitution used by society, for almost every mental illness. This is again, due to a lack of awareness that people have no idea about such disorders. This eventually leads to the patient hiding his/her illness, which poses a serious threat to his/her life. Secondly, the lack of public expenditure on mental health services is a huge bummer. India spends just 2% of its GDP on healthcare and in 2020, just ₹40 crore was spent on the National Mental Health Programme, a mere 0.06% of the total healthcare budget. Such a huge sector can’t provide quality services at such a low budget.

Credits: The Lancet

The World Health Organization estimates that India will suffer economic losses amounting to a staggering 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions between 2012 and 2030. Therefore, it is the need of the hour, to focus on this grim scenario. India needs to train more mental health professionals, open more mental health hospitals and research institutes that can provide quality services to those in need, at a low cost so that the poorest of the poor can afford the expenses. This can be done only when the budget for mental health and allied services is increased exponentially. A review article, ‘Cost estimation for the implementation of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017’, published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, estimated the conservative annual estimated cost on the government to implement MHCA to be ₹94,073 crore (mind you the entire healthcare budget is a mere ₹60,000 crore). Increasing the space given to mental health issues in media can also prove to be helpful. Teaching students in schools about general mental illnesses can also prove to be helpful, so that they at least have an insight about these illnesses We must, as a country, take concrete steps to address this elephant in the room.

Aditya Jha is a student pursuing Psychology from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Malaika M Khan

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Aditya Jha

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India’s Missing Millions