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Mental health needs of India

HII last week wrote about the fact that suicide, being the leading cause of death among the young in India last year, should be looked at as a legitimate national health priority. We spoke about how lack of infrastructure and awareness of mental health issues seems to disproportionately affect people living in urban centres.

Now this article published by the Hindustan Times yesterday states that only one in five Indians suffering from mental health issues get the care they need. This is according to a survey published in the National Mental Health Survey, by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore. According to the survey, barely 30 million of the estimated 150 million people suffering from mental health issues get the care they need.

Clearly this is a shocking statistic. There is a tendency in the Indian psyche not to seek help for ailments that seem to be “minor.” When we talk about mental illness we are not only talking about full-blown mental disorders such as schizophrenia or psychosis, but also depression and forms of substance abuse such as alcoholism that contribute to morbidity.

The survey goes on to note that current mental health systems are weak, fragmented and uncoordinated, with deficiencies in all components at the state level. B.N. Gangadhar, director of NIMHANS, who spearheaded the survey, has suggested that mental health care be integrated with the public health care system. “Primary health cares should be strengthened to be able to handle mental health issues and to offer counselling and alternative treatments to patients,” he said. He suggested adopting telemedicine to strengthen the system. “After patients visit hospitals in major cities, they can access and continue treatment through PHCs in their home towns through telemedicine,” he said.

We hope the government takes these findings seriously and takes necessary steps to ensure the next survey doesn’t reveal such glaring inadequacies in the health care system.

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