Much of the coverage surrounding mental health in India tends to focus on the treatment gap – manifest in shortages of infrastructure and personnel. In Tamil Nadu, however, there is some good news. The state has opened its second mental health hospital.
The Theni Medical College and Hospital is now home to an Institute of Mental Health, a 100-bed facility that has admitted fourteen inpatients so far at the time of writing and has been providing outpatient care for the past six months. As noted in The Times of India, the hospital commenced operations “without the usual fanfare”, responding according to the director of medical education Dr A Edwin Joe to “a huge need of hospital beds.”
Tamil Nadu’s only other facility devoted exclusively to the treatment of mental health treatment is the Chennai Institute of Mental Health. That facility has been operating since 1871 and is one of the oldest facilities providing psychiatric care in South Asia.
A mental healthcare facility in Theni has been in the works since 2010. The shortage of psychiatric beds in the state is pronounced, with less than twenty such beds available at medical college and district hospitals.
This is reflective of a national crisis. According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there is a treatment gap of fifty to seventy percent when it comes to mental health conditions, while staff such as clinical psychologists are in short supply.
Around 150 million Indians are in need of mental healthcare, with depression and anxiety alone affecting 56 million and 38 million people respectively. Despite these significant numbers, just ten percent of those in need of mental healthcare can avail it.
The opening of a second mental health hospital in Tamil Nadu is undoubtedly good news, but this needs to be part of a broader realignment prioritising mental health as opposed to an isolated incident. With a country in great need of mental healthcare, a delay in doing so cannot be sustained for the sake of the nation’s health.