New Delhi: Ignorance,
stigma and lack of doctors have long marred mental healthcare in
India. But with stressful lifestyles and ever increasing cases of
depression, this much neglected segment is now gaining importance
in the country's medical scenario.
According to an estimate by the World Health Organisation (WHO),
depression will become the second largest illness in terms of
morbidity in another decade. It already affects one out of every
five women and one in every 12 men.
"Social awakening towards mental diseases and their cure has
finally started to come," Anindita Paul, director of Sanjivini
Society for Mental Health, told IANS.
"In terms of the urban society, there is lot of awakening which is
coming now. Still as a country a lot more needs to be done," says
Globally, mental disorders account for 13 percent of the burden of
diseases. In India, according to the National Institute of Mental
Health (NIMH), the prevalence of schizophrenia, a severe mental
disorder, is prevalent among 1.1 percent of the total population
while the overall lifetime prevalence rate of mental disorders is
While the government has a separate programme for mental health,
the segment is marred by lack of adequate doctors and
According to latest figures provided by the health ministry, India
has a mere 4,500 psychiatrists.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) member P.C. Sharma says
lack of proper care for mental patients is a major cause of
"In today's world, everyone is living under constant stress. Still
we have just 40 major mental health institutes," Sharma told IANS.
Sharma said he had personally called the chief of the Medical
Council of India and requested him to consider making psychiatry
compulsory for all medical students.
"The mental institutions are in a pathetic condition and the
common perception is that these are 'mad houses'," he says.
Paul agrees, but adds that the perspective is changing. "More
rehabilitation centres are coming up, but the government needs to
take up major steps," she says.
The WHO preamble states that "health is a state of complete
physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence
of disease or infirmity", suggesting there is no health without
Stress is seen as a major cause of worry as far as mental health
is concerned, with studies showing a constant increase in stress,
especially in urban population.
The WHO, in its 130th session of its executive board, adopted a
resolution on 'Global Burden of Mental Disorders and the need for
a comprehensive, coordinated response from health and social
sectors at the country level'.
The draft resolution in the matter was moved by India Jan 20.
Sanjivini runs counselling centres, a rehabilitation centre and
group consultations for those suffering from mental problems
ranging from stress, depression, social problems to severe mental
illness. According to figures tabulated by the organisation, of
all the patients who have come to them in the last nine years,
some 19 percent came to discuss issues pertaining to problems with
people around them.
Another 17 percent came to discuss their marital issues, 15
percent for problems related to their personality, 18 percent
suffered from different mental ailments while one percent had
Statistics also show women are more vulnerable to mental
health-related problems as compared to men. Some 57 percent of the
patients in the last nine years have been women.
In 1982, India launched a special National Mental Health Programme
to ensure the availability of minimum mental healthcare, encourage
application of mental health knowledge in general healthcare and
in social development and to promote community participation in
mental health service.
"We are still somewhere in the middle of totally destigmatising
mental illness. There is a need to understand that mental patients
can be treated and can lead a normal life again," Paul told IANS.
(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)