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Mental health in India: more action needed

A social media photo campaign has aimed to raise awareness of mental health disorders and needs in India.

The event was organised by the Harvard US-India Initiative. Participants were invited to photograph themselves carrying placards emblazoned with mental health awareness messages and post them online with the hashtag #IndiaStopTheStigma.

The campaign speaks to an issue that has become particularly prominent this past year. Mental health awareness has become an important part of India’s national dialogue on health, especially after the 2013 Mental Health Care Bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian Parliament) by a unanimous voice vote in August, more than three years after it was first introduced. The legislation was touted by Health Minister JP Nadda as “historic and progressive.”

The bill includes new provisions to protect the rights of the mentally ill, including from inhumane treatment. It also states that those who attempt suicide will no longer be subject to legal repercussions. Suicide is a punishable (by imprisonment and/or a fine) offence under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

The bill also aims to address the inadequacies of India’s mental health care system – its chronic lack of vital resources, staff and funding.

A 2011 WHO report found that expenditure on mental healthcare was just 0.06% of the country’s national health budget. It also said that neuropsychiatric disorders in India contributed to 11.6 percent of the global burden of disease.

It is estimated that between six and seven percent of India’s population – approximately 75 million people – suffer from some form of mental illness. Yet there are just 2.1 psychiatric hospital beds per hundred thousand people. Figures for mental health professionals are similarly dismal: per hundred thousand people, there are just 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 psychiatric nurses, 0.07 clinical psychologists, and 0.07 psychiatric social workers.

Earlier this year, a survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) concluded that one in ten Indians suffer from common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression – yet only a fifth of Indians with mental health problems receive the treatment they need.

Health Issues India, meanwhile, joined calls for suicide to be recognised as a legitimate national health priority in India. This followed an article in the Times of India which said that suicide was the leading cause of morbidity in the youth population, especially the “well-educated youth…that have the best social indicators in the country.”

Contact details for mental health support in India can be accessed here. 

If you are suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts, visit your nearest hospital or contact AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or Sneha India on 91 44 24640050 helpline. A list of other suicide helplines can be accessed here.

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