Mental Health Problem: A Growing Concern In The Healthcare Space Of India

A thud!

Something fell from high above!

In no time, a bright young life of just a 32-year-old highly accomplished professional – a widely admired soul, vanished in the thin year, for good, mostly unnoticed in the quiet neighborhood, initially.

The news was more than a shock to my family. It engulfed me by the fire of impotent rage against this cruel play of destiny, where nothing can be undone, just nothing!

What prompted this so bright, successful, hugely promising and an ever-helpful-to-all guy doing what he did? No one could ferret out the answer, just yet, and possibly would never be.

Medical literatures have now established a close relationship between depression and its possible lethal outcome – suicide. Using literature data, one can estimate that 60 to 70 percent of the subjects attempting suicide were suffering from depression of various kinds. Was this young man too silently suffering from this undiagnosed and untreated mental illness?

In this article, I shall dwell on this important aspect of overall health care in India.

Depression ranks 4th in the 10 leading causes of the global burden of disease:

The World Health Organization (W.H.O) underlines: “Major depression is now the leading cause of disability globally and ranks fourth in the ten leading causes of the global burden of disease. If projections are correct, within the next 20 years, depression will have the dubious distinction of becoming the second cause of the global disease burden. Globally, 70 million people suffer from alcohol dependence. About 50 million have epilepsy; another 24 million have schizophrenia. A million people commit suicide every year. Between ten and 20 million people attempt it.”

A recent study:

Currently in India, millions of people with mental illnesses continue to remain untreated. This is vindicated by a chain of recent research studies titled, “China-India Mental Health Alliance Series”, published in ‘The Lancet’ on May 18, 2016.

The studies highlighted that: “China and India, which together contain 37 percent of the world’s population, are both undergoing rapid social changes. Because mental disorders account for a high proportion of morbidity, detailed knowledge of the mental health status of the populations in these two countries, and the evidence-base regarding the treatment of those disorders, are of paramount concern.”

“In China, mental, neurological and substance use disorders accounted for 7 percent of all (years of healthy life of the whole population) in 1990, rising to 11 percent by 2013. Similarly, in India, the proportion of all burden explained by mental, neurological, and substance use disorders rose from 3 percent in 1990 to 6 percent in 2013,” the researchers highlighted.

Greater concern in India:

In 2013, 36 million years of healthy life were lost to mental illness in China, and 31 million in India. The new research estimates that by 2025, though 36.9m years of healthy life will be lost to mental illness in China (10 percent increase), it will be 38.1m in India (23 percent increase). Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems among working age adults between 20 and 69 years.

Similarly, dementia is emerging as a growing mental health issue for both countries. However, from 2015 to 2025, it is estimated that the number of healthy years lost due to dementia will increase by 82 percent in India against 56 percent in China.

Interestingly, in August 2016, replying to a debate on the ‘Mental Health Care Bill’ in the Parliament, the Union Health Minister Mr. J. P. Nadda said, around 6-7 per cent of Indian population suffered from mental illnesses, while 1-2 per cent suffer from acute mental disease.

This means, over 70 million people are affected by mental illness in India, which has a close association with the rate of suicides, cardiovascular disorders, and loss of a significant number of productive days. It is estimated that around 50 percent of people with severe mental disease and around 90 percent of those with less severe symptoms, remain untreated in the country.

Depression, reportedly, the most prevalent form of mental illness that affects almost 3 to 5 percent of urban population living in cities, such as, Mumbai or Delhi. Around 30 percent of them are severely neurotic.

Alzheimer’s disease was reported to be the most common of severe disorders (54 percent) followed by vascular dementia (39 percent).

Another Government statistics indicate that 20 percent of Indians reportedly need counselling at some point of their lives. One per cent of the population suffers from serious mental health disorders, while 5-10 percent of Indians suffer from moderate disorders.

Another recent study:

Another recent report published in ‘The Lancet Psychiatry’ on 12 August 2016, captured the following details for India, in this area:

  • Very few population-representative data were found for mental disorders, with an average coverage of just 1 percent of the country’s population.
  • Major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, and alcohol dependence were the most common mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorders, for men.
  • For women, anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and dysthymia were most common.
  • Human and financial resources for mental health are grossly inadequate with less than 1 percent of the national health care budget allocated to mental health in India.
  • Improvement of coverage will need to address both supply-side barriers and demand-side barriers related to stigma and varying explanatory models of mental disorders.

An associate professor of psychiatry at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), reportedly said, there is just one psychiatrist for every 400,000 Indians. Apparently, he also said that there are only about 4,000 psychiatrists, 1,000 psychologists and 3,000 social workers in the entire country of over 1.2 billion people. Only 1,022 college seats for mental health professionals are set aside in India.

Or, in other words, a huge dearth of trained mental health professionals, coupled with low public investments, and fueled by high associated stigma, continue to compel many Indian populations lose many years of their lives to the illness.

Role of traditional medicines:

The study also suggests that traditional medicine practitioners, who are so common in India, “may be trained to recognize and refer patients who are at risk to themselves and others, or to advise patients against stopping their medication. Nevertheless, the authors do call for more research in this area to understand the effectiveness and potential risks of traditional medicines in the treatment and management of mental health.

Associated stigma:

It’s worth repeating, unlike many developed countries of the world, there is still a stigma associated with mental health problems in India. There are several instances of its adverse impact, not just on the social level, but also on the employment opportunities. These issues compound the treatment problem, making their public interaction too very weird at times, further increasing social polarization and inequalities.

Not a personal failure:

As the World Health Organization (W.H.O) articulates: “Mental illness is not a personal failure. It doesn’t happen only to other people. We all remember a time not too long ago when we couldn’t openly speak about cancer. That was a family secret. Today, many of us still do not want to talk about AIDS. These barriers are gradually being broken down.”

The Mental Health Care Bill:

The long-awaited ‘Mental Health Care Bill’, which after an extensive consultation process, is now awaiting the lawmakers’ formal approval for its enactment as law. The Bill, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on August 8, 2016, and is expected to be discussed in the Lok Sabha, probably in this budget session. It was first introduced on August 19, 2013, the Rajya Sabha Standing Committee report was submitted on November 20, 2013.

The bill reportedly redefines mental illness to better understand various conditions that are persistent among the population. It states that mental illness is a ‘substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgement, behavior, capacity to recognize reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life’. Mental conditions related to alcohol or drug abuse are also included in the definition.

The Bill basically aims at protecting the rights of persons with mental illness and promote their access to mental health care.

One of the major highlights of the bill is decriminalization of attempt to suicide, as it states that the person attempting suicide will be presumed to be ‘under severe stress’ unless otherwise proven, and is not punishable. This move is commendable, ‘as it takes away the burden of implicating a mentally ill person in a crime that he or she had no sane control over.’ The W.H.O report on suicides (2000-2012) puts India right on top of the list in Southeast Asia. It says, the average suicide rate in India is 10.9 for every 100,00 people.

Conclusion:

Mental health has now been included in the United Nation’s ‘Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)’ at its General Assembly in September 2015. It is very likely that SDGs addressing mental health issues will become a part of country development plans and of bilateral and multilateral development assistance. This could well mean that millions of people will finally receive much needed help in this area.

Zeroing-in to India, mental health problems have since been a low priority area in the public health narrative of the country. The health information system of the country does not prioritize mental health, either.

To address this growing concern, besides forthcoming enactment of ‘Mental Health Care Bill’, the much-awaited healthcare reform of the nation, should include a transparent policy framework for mental health. A substantial number of community health workers, including traditional medicine practitioners need to be trained to deliver basic mental health hygiene and care. More serious cases, in that process, should be referred to the qualified professionals.

Mental health problems are growing at a rapid pace in India, being a cause of great concern in the healthcare space in India. It deserves to be treated like any other serious physical illness or disease, in a systematic way, backed by adequate budgetary support for affordable treatment and counselling measures, wherever required.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.