Nathan Fulgado Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Are we all ‘Mental’- The perception of mental health in India.

As Indians, we threw around the word ‘mental’ like it meant nothing. We associated it with words like crazy, insane, mad etc. Very few of us understand the true connotations of the word ‘mental’ and what it truly means. This just goes to show the attitude of Indians towards mental health. Why is there a stigma attached to receiving psychological help? Why do Indians perceive mental health as something that isn’t as serious as physical ailments like cancer and diabetes? In a country, where thirty percent of the population lives below the poverty line, where suicides claim more lives than malaria and unemployment and inequality reigns supreme, why does mental health take a backseat when we talk about healthcare. Why doesn’t health insurance cover psychiatric care? Why isn’t mental health taken seriously?

According to a National Mental Health Survey, conducted by National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in 2016, over 150 million Indians are in immediate need of psychiatric intervention. Majority of the people who require intervention belong to urban areas and metro cities, i.e., cities with a population of more than ten million. The prevalence of schizophrenia is at 0.64%, mood disorders at 5.6% and stress and neurotic disorders at 6.93%. These figures have only increased in the next four years, leading to 2020. One in twenty people in India suffers from depression. Nearly one percent of the population reported to be high risk suicidal. According to a report by the Indian Union Ministry of Health and Family in 2018, India requires at least 13000 more mental health professionals to deal with at least 150 million people who need immediate intervention. Except for Kerala, every state in India falls short of the requirement of mental health professionals. Dear reader, this is bad. This is more than bad, this is catastrophic.

The problem seems worse than it is because we as Indians, have a long history of self medication. As stated above, thirty percent of the population falls below the poverty line, which makes it financially impossible to afford psychiatric help. As a result, they look for cheaper ways out such as tobacco, drugs and alcohol. According to the same survey conducted in 2016, nine percent of adult men in India abuse alcohol. The use of drugs such as cannabis and opioids are also attributed to issues of mental illness. The most common cause for alcohol dependence and drug abuse in India is not recreation but to keep the so-called ‘voices in my head away’ which literally means keeping the overwhelming effects of mental illness at bay. Alcohol and drug abuse also open the floodgates to physical ailments such as organ failure, heart and liver disease, respiratory and rheumatic illnesses. From an issue that could be avoided by providing psychiatric help to a mentally unstable person, a snowball effect is created which ultimately results in physical ailments and worst case scenario- death.

Any type of illness or ailment is treatable, if not curable. But how do you treat an ailment which Indian’s do not even consider an ailment. The attitude of Indians towards mental health needs to change. The death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has once again opened up the conversation of whether mental health is a serious problem in India, and the answer has always been yes. Mental health has always been a serious problem in India and will continue to do so because Indian’s are too stubborn to understand the reasons behind disorders like depression and schizophrenia. We avoid people who suffer from mental disorders because their behaviour deviates from socially acceptable behaviour, which leaves an already suffering person more lonely and devoid of human contact which is crucial in treating disorders. It doesn’t have to take a tragic event like the death of a human being for us to understand that mental health is real. People do suffer from depression, irrespective of their status in society, occupation or their bank balance. People do have suicidal tendencies, in spite of putting a smile on their face and carrying on with their daily lives. Students and children are bullied into slitting their wrists and even the wealthy hang themselves from the ceiling. All of these facts and statistics only beg the question: will mental health be taken seriously, or will mental disorders claim more lives before we come to our senses.