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Bipolar disease remains unaddressed in India

Roughly one in every 150 Indians suffer from bipolar disorder, according to senior consultant psychiatrist Dr Bhaskar Mukherjee from Kolkata. However, of these individuals, less than thirty percent are currently receiving any degree of treatment.

mental health, suicidal behaviour illustration Copyright: silentgunman / 123RF Stock Photo bipolar disorder
Nearly 200 million Indians suffer from mental health conditions — most do so in silence. mental health. Copyright: silentgunman / 123RF Stock Photo

Mayoclinic characterises bipolar disorder as a “mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).” These contrasting emotional peaks can cause the condition to become difficult to manage, with depressive episodes leaving the individual feeling sad, hopeless, and, in the worst case suicidal. 

This is contrasted sharply by episodes of mania or hypomania which Dr Mukherjee notes may include “elevated mood, excessive talkativeness, boasting, increased aggression, risk taking behaviour, excessive spending of money, excessive grooming, increased energy level, over optimistic attitude and [decreased] need of sleep.”

Mental healthcare accounts for just 0.16 percent of the government budget for health. In addition, there is an acute shortage of psychiatric professionals in the country. Data indicates that there are 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 psychologists and 0.07 social workers for every 100,000 Indians. This is despite the substantial number of Indians affected.

“In India one in seven people suffer from mental disorders and one in 120 persons suffer from severe mental disorders. Three out of four persons with a severe mental disorder experience significant disability in work, social and family life,” said Dr VK Singh, Moti Lal Nehru Medical College (MLNMC).

During the COVID-19 pandemic the issues surrounding mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder were further underlined. The Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS) noted a study during the pandemic that showed a twenty percent rise in mental health disorder cases, affecting at least one in five Indians. 

Despite the rise in mental health conditions – spurred on by the stresses of the pandemic and the resulting lockdowns – there is still little attention being paid to addressing the issue. India’s healthcare systems are already overstretched. While the COVID-19 pandemic is seemingly subsiding, other health concerns, such as unaddressed drug-resistant tuberculosis, are now causing further issues. 

For as long as mental health remains a taboo topic to many in the country, it will not receive the attention, and the necessary funding under the health budget that it necessitates. The true extent of conditions such as bipolar disorder may never be known, as many Indians suffer in silence. More must be done to facilitate open dialogue on these issues, only then will India be able to help those who are in need.

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