Shhh… (followed by a long silence)
This still is the immediate reaction of the majority of Indians when the topic of mental health comes up. Remarks like ‘Are you mad?’ ‘Pagal hai kya?’ have only made it worse by trivialising mental health issues. Ignored for long, and due to the stigma attached to it, India is now facing a mental health crisis unlike ever before.
It is estimated that nearly 6.5 per cent of the country’s population is suffering mental health issues in one form or another.
According to the World Health Organisation nearly 56 million Indians, that is, 4.5 per cent of India’s population, suffer from depression. Another thirty-eight million Indians, or 3 per cent of India’s population, suffer from anxiety disorders including panic attacks, phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
To put things into perspective, President Ram Nath Kovind had stated at the convocation ceremony at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), that India has been facing a ‘mental health epidemic’ and that the number of affected in India is larger than the entire population of Japan.
But have you heard any politician or political party speaking about it? (Calling political opponents mentally ill/ pagal doesn’t count). In fact just last month the Indian Psychiatry Society had asked politicians to refrain from using words like ‘ mental instability’, ‘mad’, ‘manasik asvastya’, ‘mental hospital ko bhejna hai’ to describe their opponents.
So what does it take to make the political parties talk about mental health seriously?
To begin with, they should be educated about how it is a serious issue and not something that should be used to mock your opponent.
Tackling the mental health crisis should become a part of their vision document. Only then we can ever hope that the current 0.16 percent of the total Union Health Budget which is spent on mental health will increase.
Another important step is to admit that the existing infrastructure including hospitals and health care professionals are inadequate.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has stated that there is a treatment gap of 50-70 percent.
It is not just about wellbeing, mental health is also taking a toll on the country’s economy. An estimated Rs 10,000 crore was spent for outpatient treatment for mental illness in India in 2012.
Where do political parties stand when it comes to tackling mental health issues?
The ruling BJP has not made any specific mention of mental health in its manifesto. The Congress, however, has taken what could be described as a historic step.
“Congress promises to implement the National Mental Health Policy, 2014 and the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 in letter and spirit,” the Congress manifesto stated.
The CPIM too has addressed the issue of mental health in its manifesto and has promised to implement the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act and the National Mental Health Care Act, “supported by adequate budgetary allocations”.