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How to Make Mental Health Awareness A Priority in India

Public Policy
Sep 19, 2020 4:31 AM 4 min read
Editorial

It can be said that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a situation wherein people are discussing matters that weren’t frequently discussed before. 

One of them is mental health. Through social media, people are sharing their experiences in managing mental health problems, which has brought about greater awareness to this topic. 

India's Approach to Mental Health

India is a country where we have a pessimistic opinion towards mental health. It often leads to denial and hesitation to seek professional help. It is a taboo, attached to age-old stigmas of prejudice, fear and judgment. 

The mental healthcare infrastructure is poor in our country. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), 150 million Indians need active mental health care interventions. 

There is a huge insufficiency in India’s mental health budget. In 2019, the budget for the National Mental Health Programme had dropped down to ₹40cr ($5.4bn) from ₹50cr ($6.8bn). The funds actually spent were ₹5cr ($0.6bn). The conservative annual estimated cost of the government to implement the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 would be ₹94,000cr ($12.8bn), according to a study by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. This demonstrates the yawning gap between allocation and deployment of Government funds towards mental health initiatives.

 

Shortcomings of the Present System

This issue is heightened by the lack of necessary infrastructure and specialists such as psychologists and psychiatrists.

The Mental Health Care Act, 2017 provides much-needed and long-overdue comprehensive legislation to target these systemic obstacles. It grants every individual the right to access mental health treatment funded by the Government, the right to information and decision-making power by patients themselves, the right for the mentally ill to remain in a community and not be segregated from society, the right to confidentiality, prohibitions on electroconvulsive therapy, the decriminalisation of suicide, and more. The Act has changed the focus from a purely physical health-based system to a care-based one.

India is facing a myriad of mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia etc. These issues are also increasingly affecting those in the age group of 15-40 years.

How to Make Mental Health Awareness A Priority in India

One reason that can be attributed to this pattern is a communication gap. This gap exists between parents and children and also between friends, colleagues or partners because of the supposed embarrassment attached to having a mental health condition. The lack of awareness or empathy of people around those suffering makes it difficult for them to seek professional help.

 

Addressing the Problem at its Root

To break the taboo surrounding mental health disorders, we need to sensitise society, starting with our family and friends.

  1. The Government should spread awareness by starting campaigns at different schools, colleges and institutions about mental health issues. This could normalise the practice of availing professional help. Using social media, holding discussions, recording awareness clips and promoting celebrity endorsements could bring traction to the campaign. Students and professionals can also be encouraged to write in regional and national newspapers about their experiences with mental health.
  2. There should be three-four counsellors in any institution (preferably of male, female and third gender). They can provide counselling sessions on a daily or weekly basis.
  3. The Government can increase seats for courses such as psychology, applied psychology and clinical psychology. Dedicated jobs in Government hospitals for such roles will be an important step towards improving access to professional help. Also, with the collaboration of private institutions, the Government can organise different workshops and webinars.
  4. We need to educate the country about mental health problems and offer solutions such as meditation, journaling, yoga etc. Starting from equipping educational institutions with some courses every year to educate students about the same.
  5. We need to build trust and confidence between patients and counsellors so that individuals approach them without any stigma in the back of their minds.
  6. The Government can take help from NGOs working at the grassroots level with interest groups and can collaborate with them to make policies and implement them with their help. These kinds of groups could comprise eight-ten individuals facing the same problems, with one professional involved. They talk about their issues and problems together to find solutions. 

There are both social and political investments to mental health problems. Firstly, social implications regarding the stigma in our society need to be tackled by creating awareness. Secondly, given the poor allocation towards mental health systems in India’s budget, the political investment needs to be increased accordingly. While these investments may seem substantial at present, they are likely to benefit the Indian population in the long-run. 

 

Written by Saloni Goyal, ‘In My Opinion’ Scholar, Moolya Foundation

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal

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