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Recognise suicide as a legitimate national health priority

We at HII have constantly emphasised that health issues in India are not treated as socio-political issues. Our spending on health, as a percentage of GDP, is below countries like Rwanda and Bangladesh. Millions of impoverished people still have to travel hundreds of kilometres to cities like New Delhi and wait in long lines to be even able to have a chance to see a specialist at premier institutions such as AIIMS.

In this context, mental health does not even seem to be on the national agenda, let alone the political agenda. Depression is still seen as a temporary tryst with sadness, to be cured with a hug and a ‘buck up man,’ rather than a complicated disease that encompasses feelings of hopelessness, despair, bleakness, panic and anxiety. This attitude is perfectly summed up in this video.

The truth is that there aren’t adequate systems in place yet in India to address needs in mental health. While we have mentioned earlier that India faces severe shortages in doctors and medical infrastructure, it is rural India that is more affected by that anomaly. Here, in the case of mental health, it seems to be urban centres that seem to be struggling the most. Many of the people that commit suicide in India are well-educated urban youngsters from states in the south of India which, ironically, have some of the best health indicators in the country.

According to the Times of India in this article, last year, suicide became the leading cause of death among the young in India last year. “When we’re confronted with this kind of figure, it should be considered a national health priority. Yet, its tragic that we are one of those countries that doesn’t have any acknowledgement of suicide as a national health concern,” says Vikram Patel, psychiatrist and founder of Goa’s premier mental health research institute, Sangath.

It is time to treat mental illnesses on par with any other kind of physical illness. The first step to fix any kind of problem is to recognise we have one. The State should take note and act now before it’s too late.

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