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President warns of mental health epidemic

President Ram Nath Kovind warns of a potential “mental health epidemic” in India, spotlighting an issue of great concern to public health. Mental health issues are often stigmatised in India, leading to many not seeking help.

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Individuals with depression often do not seek help

President Kovind stressed the need to increase access to mental health treatment facilities during a speech at the 22nd Convocation of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).  He noted an aim of addressing the shortage of mental health workers, setting out a deadline of 2022 to resolve the issue. This deadline coincides with the 75th anniversary of Indian independence.

Calling the issue of mental health treatment a “national mission”, Kovind expressed his wish for those with serious mental disorders to be diagnosed and have access to the necessary treatment facilities.

India faces shortages of health professionals  across all specialities, including mental health. Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda has expressed aims to address this issue, saying his ministry was focusing on increasing the number of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and psychiatric social workers.

India has made progress in recent years. In particular, the passage of a bill last year ensuring the rights of those with mental health disorders was hailed as ‘historic.’ The bill guarantees mental health treatment for all who need it. However, shortages of facilities and personnel means this is currently not the case.

Kovind points to figures of around 5,000 psychiatrists and fewer than 2,000 clinical psychologists in the entire country. For such a small number of professionals to be catering to a population of over 1.3 billion people highlights the need for a vastly expanded workforce in mental healthcare.

As a comparison point, Kovind notes that the number of Indians considered to have mental health issues outnumbers the population of Japan. An estimated 70 million Indians suffer from conditions such as depression. Despite these conditions being widely prevalent, many individuals will not seek help due to the social stigma attached to these conditions. Worsening the situation for many in rural environments is the fact that no treatment is available. An attitude where individuals will simply ignore mental health problems is fostered as a result.

Disproportionately high suicide rates among India’s farmers have recently gained media attention. The revelation was claimed to have potential links to climate change. Farming is an inherently risky occupation, in which weather conditions can affect crop growth, and so, the profits of the farmer. Droughts and changes in weather patterns have hindered profits of many rural farmers, driving many into poverty. This has resulted in some, without access to mental health support, taking their own lives.

As the population ages, so too do the number of individuals with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease in its later stages can require round the clock care, a situation that experts believe India is entirely unprepared for.

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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