India is standing on the threshold of a mental health epidemic with a greater number of people affected by mental health issues in the country than the entire population of Japan.
According to the 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!
According to the NMHS survey, people in the lower income group 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 needs mental health treatment support? Poverty, domestic violence, alcohol, and drug addiction and the very stigma of being underprivileged take a toll on these people.
Another point is that mental health problems can affect all age-groups. What is really worrying is that today, India’s children and youth are more stressed and suffer from anxiety and panic attacks and performance issues more than ever before. If our children and youth are not mentally strong, how can we build a strong nation?
Also, the common man is over-stressed with family responsibilities and work pressure and has less time to socialize and de-stress. Road rage is becoming common. Couples in unhappy marriages are growing but never go to a marriage counselor. Children are growing up with both parents working, sometimes in different cities, and the close-knit joint family system is dying out. Family counseling is unheard of concept in India. While social media keeps people connected, it builds additional pressure to project only the best.
Despite this alarming scenario, 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 and the like, they treat a 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.
Also, despite the Mental Health Care Bill 2016 mandating state governments make mental health care affordable for all, the cost of treatment continues to be high and beyond the reach of the common man. No wonder mental health schemes and mental health care are not so advanced in India, as in the Western world.
India needs web-based online portals such as the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) to reach out to its vast population. More affordable treatment options are required, along with affordable rehabilitation centers like the National Institute of Mental Health Rehabilitation (NIMHR) which received cabinet approval earlier. Mental health awareness campaigns are the need of the hour.
Today, we need to open up and talk about mental health problems. We need to teach our young that having a mental health issue is as normal as having a cold. They need to talk freely and support their peers. The country needs to advance not just in technology but in the way it approaches and accepts mental health issues as part of everyday life.
The time to begin is now.