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Just ninety seconds to spare

At the Kolkata Pavlov Hospital, The Guardian reports queues for mental health treatment often exceed 600 individuals. Appointments themselves often last for just ninety seconds.

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Depression is becoming ever more common in India

Such is the dearth of mental health facilities within India that Individuals often travel long distances to visit a facility offering mental health treatment, such journeys often lasting through the night. Individuals often set off earlier in hopes of securing a place in line that will actually see them assessed during the operating hours of the facility.

For those who are able to receive treatment at all, having to explain complex mental health issues within just ninety seconds is potentially a degrading experience. It is debatable whether the individual would even finish explaining within their allotted time. Considering these issues, the chance of the individual being given reasonable treatment – or even an appropriate diagnosis – within ninety seconds is all but non-existent. 

Dr Debananda Saha, one of the doctors on call at the hospital, commented on the issue. “These patients travel from very remote areas. They left home at two in the morning, just to talk to a doctor for one minute,” he says. “If I spent half an hour with each patient, I would not be able to see them all.”

Figures released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare last year pegged the treatment gap at between fifty and seventy percent, with a significant shortfall of mental health professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists driving the accessibility issue. Against a population of 150 million experiencing mental health difficulties, just 898 clinical psychologists and 3,800 psychiatrists are available to respond to their needs.

Between 2012-2030, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that India’s mental health emergency will cost the economy more than US$1 trillion in lost productivity (as measured in 2010 US dollars). Regardless of the potential economic shortfall, mental health in India is not being treated with the urgency that the severity of the situation warrants.

The lack of mental health treatment has contributed to a high suicide rate. “There are substantially more suicide deaths in India each year than AIDS-related deaths (62,000 in 2016) and maternal deaths (45,000 in 2015) combined,” stated an article published in The Lancet. Despite this, “suicide prevention has attracted considerably less public health attention.”

The ninety second time allotted to each patient perfectly encompasses the situation faced by the majority of Indians affected by mental health issues. The situation seems all but disregarded. For those who are seen by a doctor, the short time space can create a situation in which the patient cannot help but feel dismissed – even when the doctor wishes to help.

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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