Posted on Monday, January 14, 2019
The state of mental health in India is worrying, and what is grave is the fact that the challenge is not recognised as one of serious concern. In urban spaces there exists much noise, but limited action. In rural spaces, there are quacks and exorcists – those who treat mental health patients with sacrifices and by wielding brooms. There is limited education and literacy, and even lesser research in this area.
Due to a lack of focus at a national level on research, the prevalence of mental health conditions in India is estimated to be anywhere between 18 and 207 per thousand. There are multiple factors as to why India has such a high prevalence of mental health challenges especially among the youth, which necessarily include millennial temperament, high consumption of technology and digital media-driven information, unreasonable expectations, unfulfilled ambitions and desires, various environmental, socio-economic and sociocultural factors; poverty and low education, unemployment, demanding working or living standards, as well as lack of people and family support with growing trend of nuclear families.
Ignorance towards mental health challenges
In a cross-sectional study conducted on 916 college students, only about a third (29.04%) of the group clearly indicated depression and a marginal 1.31% identified schizophrenia.
The attitude towards mentally unwell people is definitely challenging. A report commissioned by The Live Love Laugh Foundation indicated that 47% people showed a judgemental behaviour against those perceived of being mentally ill, with 26% indicating fear of the same. Around 60% attribute the causes of mental illness to lack of discipline and will power, while equal percentage share the belief of limited interaction and co-existence between mentally unhealthy and healthy people, lest the former affects the latter adversely.
Need for Mental Health Education
India needs systemic changes and the participation of multiple stakeholders to increase sensitivity and awareness towards mental health. Most of us do not know how to deal with victims of mental health issues, however, there is still a lot that people can do:
Legislature: In 2015, India got its first National Mental Health Policy. However, the policy needs to be relooked and upgraded, including wider participation from other stakeholders, mandating provisions for mental health awareness and education from panchayat level in villages to district levels in cities. We need adequate facilities and time-bound goals.
Community Setting: Does your community, RWA, society, or block have any kind of individual or mass engagement mental health awareness campaigns? Most probably – No. Mental health awareness can be an outcome of collective community action and can foster bonding.
Educational level: Our education system and the school/college facilities need to create a stronger ecosystem for our youth. Due to the growing nuclear families, children get less attention and adult supervision. An education curriculum highlighting mental health sensitivity-related education would help. Having counsellors as consultants with schools/colleges would not only help the institutions lay down internal framework but at the same time will give children timely and necessary guidance.
Organisations and workplaces: If an athlete is running the course, there is a team of medics and support staff required on the sidelines to attend any injury and to support the athlete in giving the best possible performance. Our workplaces are mental labour intensive, and yet, most organisations would not have an effective mental health policy.
Skill-India: India has an acute shortfall of skilled workforce in mental health space. As per World Health Organization, it is estimated that India has 0.3, 0.12, 0.07, and 0.07, psychiatrists, nurses, psychologists and social workers respectively for every lakh of population. The system is heavily looking for skilled mental health workforce.
(The author is an expert in mental health, HR, corporate and education upliftment)
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