ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mental Healthcare

India pilots a WHO resolution on mental healthcare, but when will it set its own house in order?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) adopted a resolution on “Global burden of mental disorders and the need for a comprehensive, coordinated response at the country level” in Geneva recently. It was moved by India which was lauded for getting the world to appreciate the need to draw up policies and measures to fight illnesses that lead to phenomenal human suffering and loss of productivity. India had also successfully argued for mental disorders being included in the non-communicable disease list at the first Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-communicable Disease Control in Moscow last year. It is ironical then that India’s mental healthcare scene is dismal, almost bordering on the negligent.

According to the union health minister, 7% of the population suffers from mental disorders with 90% remaining untreated. There is one psychiatrist per four lakh people with a similar abysmal shortfall in terms of the available psychiatric nurses and social workers. The scene is worse in the rural areas. This is not surprising considering that India’s allocation for mental healthcare is less than 1% of the health budget. Translated into ground reality, these figures mean that a huge percentage of the mentally ill are cared for by their families without even getting a proper diagnosis. The social stigma associated with being mentally sick means that families can hardly hope for a support network outside the home. The caregivers, especially in low-income families, have to manage their jobs and daily lives in addition to looking after a patient in need of exceptional attention whilst also handling the psychological effect of the situation on themselves. The lack of awareness associated with these illnesses also results in many of the patients being taken to religious charlatans who promise to “exorcise” the evil spirit or neutralise the “evil eye” cast on the family.

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