In the kaleidoscope of India’s myriad challenges, mental health emerges as a poignant concern demanding our collective attention. The rising disease burden of mental health is now a public health juggernaut affecting diverse demographics. Specifically, among the youth the key concerns identified by mental health professionals are adolescent suicides, behavioural addictions, substance use, mood and anxiety disorders and emerging psychosis.
With 15 per cent of Indians grappling with a spectrum of mental health concerns, there’s an urgent need to identify, understand, destigmatise, and tackle the challenge head-on. Beyond the clinical lens, individuals are navigating life’s tumult, striving to recognise their strengths while managing stress and contributing to society. However, this progress needs expert assistance, but the scarcity of mental health professionals and facilities is a looming obstacle. This gap, compounded by pervasive stigma, limited resources, and a lack of awareness, makes it almost impossible to address. While the government has recognized this growing concern and has initiated steps, the road to effectively handling the crisis requires sustained, comprehensive actions.
Mental Health Disparities in India
Within India’s intricate societal fabric, hidden stark inequalities amplify mental health challenges, creating disparities across the socioeconomic strata that wield significant influence. This divide contracts access to resources, education, and opportunities for individuals and impacts the vulnerable. The National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) outlines that mental health issues and disorders disproportionately affect women, children, and marginalised communities who lack essential support due to financial constraints, which, coupled with resource limitations, no insurance coverage and lack of infrastructure, leave an indelible mark not only on the individual but also on the family and the nation’s development. Addressing India’s mental health crisis requires a multifaceted approach — mitigating inequalities, ensuring universal access to mental healthcare, and fostering inclusivity. This holistic strategy forms the bedrock for navigating the mental health landscape toward collective well-being and development.
Pivotal Catalyst for Programme Policy
A World Bank report indicated that the Disability Adjusted Life Years loss due to mental health disorders is one of the highest in India, with one in four families having an affected family member, of which more than 90 percent remain untreated. Recognising this gap, the Government of India initiated the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in 1982 to align with the World Health Organization’s guidelines to deliver mental health services within the general healthcare framework to enable early detection and treatment, train physicians to diagnose, raise public awareness and monitor for record keeping.
Over the years, the programme has transitioned from the national to the district level as the District Mental Health Program for broader implementation. The main components of the programme are:
- Mental healthcare for all ensures the availability and accessibility of care for all, particularly to the most vulnerable and underprivileged sections of the population
- Application of knowledge encourages the use of information in general care and social development
- Community participation promotes involvement in services to increase efforts toward care and assistance
Despite a robust programme framework, it encountered multiple limitations, from financial constraints, inadequate human resources, limited community engagement, ineffective training, poor public-private partnerships, and a shortage of monitoring and evaluation systems. To address these challenges, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, launched the Tele Mental Health Assistance and Networking Across States (Tele MANAS) 2022 as a comprehensive, integrated, and inclusive tele-facility. Tele MANAS aims to inject renewed momentum to provide universal access to equitable, affordable, and quality mental health care through 24×7 tele-counseling as a digital component of the NMHP across the country. This progressive approach underscores India’s commitment to reshaping the country’s mental health landscape.
Empowering Through Education and Technology
While the government continues its commitment to leveraging technology to achieve the goals of Tele MANAS, corporates are joining in to empower Indians to navigate mental health challenges – the future hinges on two pivotal fronts: education and technology. Integrating mental health education within the educational system will emerge as a fool-proof transformative strategy to raise awareness and address chronic mental illness issues at a younger age, thereby destigmatising mental health and eliminating discrimination.
Simultaneously, technology leveraged through digital initiatives goes beyond disseminating information. Online tools have the potential to become game changers by amplifying effective mental health initiatives not only for patients but also for healthcare professionals. Mental Health professionals are armed with a revolutionary tool like SAARTHI that enables them to support patients and caregivers and have open discussions about ways to tackle mental health disorders. Another patient support program #SayYesToLife, underscores the significance of raising awareness about mental health through musical interventions, reflecting the reality of struggles and helping understand conditions better. This dynamic combination of education and technology works synergistically, providing holistic solutions to improve patient outcomes.
On this World Mental Health Day, we unravel the layers of India’s mental health challenges, and breaking the silence emerges as a universal human right. This paradigm shift calls for sustained efforts, inclusive policies, and a societal commitment to reshape our narrative around mental well-being. Breaking the silence is our dedication to a compassionate, understanding, and mentally resilient society. In doing so, we embark on a transformative journey that may enhances individual lives and lays the foundation for a more empathetic and mentally robust India.
This article was first published in the Express Healthcare on 10th October 2023