The great Indian mental health crisis
We are facing a serious crisis here. VG Siddhartha’s suicide once again put the spotlight on depression and suicidal tendencies even in entrepreneurs and celebrities, not just poor farmers. Around 800,000 people commit suicide globally every year and among them about 135,000 individuals are Indian residents. According to the 2018 The Lancet Public Health report, India accounts for over one fourth of global annual male suicides and around one third of annual female suicides. In 2016, 130,000 people took their own lives in India, as per the National Crime Records Bureau.
These are not just statistics. These were real people with families who chose death over life. But why? Beyond the economic and social reasons, the primary reason for this catastrophe is the issue of mental illness, which mostly goes ignored by us. The Lancet Public Health states
“Although there are substantially more suicide deaths in India each year…suicide prevention has attracted considerably less public health attention.”
In a recent report from CNN-News18, Psychiatrist and director of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, Dr Samir Parikh, said
“We need to appreciate that today suicide has become one of the top killers in the world, most people have ongoing psychological issues though this may not always been a case.”
He added –
“All human beings are equally vulnerable. Everyone has their own struggles.”
Dr Nimesh Desai, Director at IHBASI (Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences), believes that suicidal tendencies and behavior primarily occurs due to depression. Depression can often go unnoticed by family and friends as it can be easy to hide what a person is truly feeling when suffering from mental health problems. This is why early identification and stronger focus on solving the real problem is essential.
But can’t mental illness patients get any help? Yes! But at the cost of being labelled as a ‘psycho’.
Seeking help is harder than we think
The real danger related to anxiety and depression is perhaps the taboo surrounded with mental health issues in India which prevents innumerable people from seeking help and get proper treatment. Avoiding mental health issues leads to serious implications which can further result in suicide. This is a serious factor that we must consider, believes Neurologist Dr Sonia Lal Gupta. She says –
“People need to understand any mental ailment is because of a chemical imbalance like another medical problem, for example, in diabetes it is due to an imbalance of insulin.”
Dr Samir Parikh shares a similar perspective. He states-
“Corporate India needs to see mental health outcomes. Often those in leadership roles will not talk about it and not seek help. Reaching out is important.”
He claims that over 90% of individuals who attempt suicide suffer from some form of untreated mental health problems. In a report from Moneycontrol, Dr Parikh added –
“There are proximal and distal factors that come into the picture. Distal factors means that the individual has been suffering for a long time. Later, when a trigger occurs that makes them take a wrong step.”
According to the World Health Organisation, 1 out of 20 people are coping with depression in India currently. Although suicide is an extreme measure, these patients are dying inside their minds slowly and silently every single day.
This is where the Indian Government needs to step in and take measures to spread awareness about mental health issues and provide adequate treatment opportunities for patients without getting judged. Dr Sonia Lal Gupta says –
…the government “needs to increase the budget on mental health. Currently, it is a very small part of health. It also needs to increase awareness and run programs about the same so people know it’s ok to have issues like anxiety and depression and also understand how common it is. It is also very important that doctors from all specialties start screening patients for depression so that it can be recognized and treated in time.”
India is suffering…internally
From intellectual disability and autism to substance abuse, anxiety and depression and psychosis, India is in serious need of a mental health revolution. The Indian population is among the largest in the world suffering from some type of mental illness disorder, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). A recent survey conducted by the National Mental Health program found that around 15 crores Indians need mental health treatment. And among them 70-92%of patients are unable to access treatment. That is a seriously staggering number for anyone to ignore.
This is the time for specialists, experts, survivors and mental health warriors to come forward and talk about mental disorders. By sharing their stories and learning, others like them can be inspired to seek help while there is still time. But more than that what is actually needed is a shift in the culture and mindset regarding mental illness and treatment.
The only question that matters: WHY?
When we can instantly run to our nearest hospital for any physical illness, shop for medicines like shopping for new clothes to check our diabetes and cholesterol, then why are we so hesitant to seek treatment for mental illness? Why do we feel so shy to tell someone about our mental disorders? Why are mental illness patients judged for seeking help and labeled as “psychopaths” and “lunatics”? Why is our mental well-being any less important than our physical well-being? WHY?
As a society we need to start by focusing on a number of factors if we are to address this issue –
- Lack of skilled mental health professionals & facilities
- Lack of awareness of mental illness symptoms
- Lack of faith in treatment
- Lack of compliance with psychiatric treatment
- Lack of awareness about relapse
- Stigma associated psychiatric treatment
- Insufficient funding & low priority of healthcare budget
- Thinking mental disorders as a sign of weakness
Simply making new policies will not help people suffering from mental illness nor will it stop depressed people like VG Siddhartha from taking their own lives and leaving their families to grieve their untimely deaths.