By Moitrayee Das
Current times have witnessed an increase in mental health policies and programs, as well as mental health as an integral part of the sustainable development goals. But is India doing enough to tackle the mental health crisis of its people?
There is no doubt that the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on people’s mental health and this seems to be the current trend since the start of the pandemic. According to a WHO survey, the pandemic has disrupted or completely stopped essential and urgent mental health services in 93% of the world’s countries. Unfortunately, the demand for mental health services is growing exponentially and not many countries are in a position to meet this ever-increasing requirement of their people. There have been countless reports indicating how mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
A Lancet study published in 2019 reported that 14% of the Indian population is living with some form of mental illness and the situation is likely to get worse. The treatment gap is extremely wide in India, with only 0.29 psychiatrists per 100,000 people (Mental Health Atlas, 2017). According to the National Mental Health Survey of India (2016), there are treatment gaps of 72-92% for various mental disorders. These statistics come from the pre-pandemic times, the numbers during and after the pandemic will definitely be much more horrible than what is said!
The positive news amidst the gloom that surrounds us all has to be the launch of the national tele-mental health program announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman when presenting the Union budget, and the mental health initiative ‘Karnataka Brain Health Initiative’, launched by Dr. K. Sudhakar, Minister of Health of Karnataka, on January 25. It is definitely a much-needed move that is being taken by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in partnership with NITI Aayog. The Ministry of Health has emphasized the need to train general practitioners in this area, as well as the importance of screening newborns for mental health problems.
In September 2020, the Government of India launched the 24/7 Multilingual Mental Helpline – ‘KIRAN‘ — to address ongoing and emerging mental health issues. According to a report by the Ministry of Empowerment and Social Justice in India, it was noted that the majority of calls (75.5%) were from the age group of 15-40 years. This is an interesting fact because 15-34 year olds make up about 35% of India’s population, and according to the Lancet Global Health Study, suicide was the leading cause of death among young people among age groups. aged 15 to 39 in 2016. The shocking data on mental health status is proven through the records of the National Crime Bureau, which states that India reported 381 suicides every day during the year 2019. All the days!
The report also sets out the many reasons why the calls were made. For example, 28.5% and 25.5% of calls were for conversations related to anxiety and depression, respectively; Pandemic, suicidal, substance abuse, and miscellaneous calls were at 7.8%, 2.8%, 3.4%, and 32%, respectively. Interestingly, it was also found that 78.2% of callers were seeking help for themselves, while 21.8% called for advice from family and friends.
While there is enough information about the poor mental health of people in India, the question is what is being done about it? Are we doing enough to deal with this situation? Or is it just on paper with zero execution?
The worrying fact is the disproportionate budget allocation for mental health in India. Given the poor mental health status, this needs to be urgently addressed.
The 2022-23 Union budget has set aside a grossly insufficient amount of just Rs 40 crore for the National Mental Health Program (NMHP), similar to the years 2021-22 and 2020-21. Mental health requirements will definitely become more acute due to the pandemic. The limited budget for the NMHP restricts the need for states to meet the requirements of their people.
According to an article published in the diplomat, the India’s health care budget in 2018 was Rs 52.8 billion and the allocation for mental health was Rs 50 million. The following year it was reduced to Rs 40 crore. Meanwhile, India’s actual spending on mental health was just Rs 5 crore a year. Not surprisingly, the estimated economic loss due to mental health conditions in India between the years 2012 and 2030 is expected to be Rs 75.84 crore (WHO).
While it is great that we have mental health initiatives and policies by the central and state governments, it is imperative to see that there are sufficient budgets and also qualified, licensed and trained professionals who can make proper use of the allocated budget to meet the requirements. . mental health needs of the population. Looking back, one sees that the actual spending on mental health is staggering and often less than 7% of the total amount allocated.
While conversations around mental health may or may not be the elephant in many rooms, it is true that we have a long way to go in understanding the nuances and complexities of this crucial field. It is time to invest substantially in the legitimate growth of this field so that the right people treat the people in need and we can do our part to save the many lives that are lost every day due to undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, School of Liberal Education, FLAME University)