India’s Mental Health Crisis
Although I have never been to India before, I find their culture to be quite enthralling. Their magnificent architecture, intriguing religious beliefs, and events such as the Hindu spring festival known as Holi doesn’t surprise me as to why so many other people share my convictions.
India is also the home to many flourishing tech companies, such as the advertising behemoth Media.net, which was founded by Indian-native Divyank Turakhia, which he eventually sold to a Chinese tech conglomerate for approximately $900 million dollars.
Although India is flourishing in some areas, the country is far from their apotheosis. India is currently amid a water crisis where clean drinking water is scarcely available.
The severity of this crisis becomes even more disheartening when we take into consideration that India’s population is three times that of the United States yet is one-third the physical size. India has the second largest population in the world, and more than half of their population (52%) is considered poor, according to TheWaterProject.org.
Such widespread poverty makes adequate mental healthcare difficult to come by. With approximately 1.2 billion citizens residing in India, their approach to mental health leaves me utterly aghast, even when it’s juxtaposed next to their abundance of unsanitary drinking water. According to sources, roughly 1 in 5 Indian citizens may suffer from depression in their lifetime.
With a significant lack of mental health professionals, mental health education, and a sanctimonious stigma toward mental illness where it’s commonplace to believe that illnesses such as schizophrenia are the result of evil spirits and black magic, it goes without further convincing that India has a very abysmal mental health system that is deserving of attention and criticism.
India appears to be a place where the more capricious someone is, the more difficult it will be for them to procure any sort of adequate help from a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a social worker.
In fact, there are approximately just 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.07 psychologists, and 0.07 social workers per 100,000 people in India, according to a source. If this isn’t dismal enough, India is also a place where “faith healers” are the norm, leaving many people suffering from severe depression or schizophrenia to be insufficiently treated and even ostracized by their families.
In 1982, India began implementing their National Mental Health Program (NMHP) and in 1992 they started their District Mental Health Program (DMHP), which was an initiative implemented by their government with the goal to ensure the availability and accessibility of minimum mental healthcare for everyone in India’s 630 districts, to encourage the application of mental health knowledge, to promote community participation, and to acquire more mental health resources aimed at treating specific illnesses, such as chronic schizophrenia or bipolar depression, for example.
One of their strategies for accomplishing their goals is by “Eradicating stigmatization of mentally ill patients and protecting their rights through regulatory institutions like the Central Mental Health Authority and the State Mental Health Authority. In short, the NMHP was the government’s attempt at trying to bridge the gap between mental health and physical health.
Persons with mental illness should be treated like other persons with health problems and the environment around them should be made conductive to facilitate recovery rehabilitation and full participation in society. -NMHP
I find such progress to be quite inspiring for the mentally ill in India as it is essentially the antithesis of what many superstitious people coexisting with them believe. However, the NMHP and the DMHP have both been progressing at a rather sluggish rate due to inadequate funding, administrative/programmatic issues (i.e. government problems), and unrealistic expectations, among other things.
So, although the NMHP and the DMHP are both huge steps forward toward promoting a less religiously driven and superfluously superstitious mental healthcare system, its reach and efficacy are not promising.
Besides poor mental health, Indians, specifically Indian students are seeing increases in suicides with 8,060 student suicides in 2014, 8,934 student suicides in 2015, and 9,474 student suicides in 2016, according to reporting by Quartz India using data from the Ministry of Home Affairs. With the 2016 data alone, that equates to approximately one student committing suicide every hour.
Indian mental health wards are a common place for the severely mentally ill. This is especially the case for the women of India as they are often treated as being inferior to men. An article from BBC News titled “The Forgotten Women in an Indian Mental Health Ward” tells the brief stories of several women who have been abandoned by their families due to their mental disorders, leaving them to spend the rest of their lives in the ward.
Some of these women have been violently raped, only to eventually experience symptoms of psychosis soon after and to then be admitted into a psych ward, ostracized by their family and community.
What Indians think of the mentally ill
A brilliant survey done by the Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) in 2018 shows how the people of India perceive mental health. The survey involved 3,556 respondents (aged 18-45) from eight different cities in India (i.e. Delhi, Kolkata, Membai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kanpur, Pune, and Patna) over the span of five months. Read the complete survey here.
When asked the question, “What does being healthy mean to you?” 57% associated “being healthy” with happiness. This shows a blatant misunderstanding of health, happiness, and emotions in general. Jealousy, anger, guilt, envy, shame, boredom, anticipation, and sadness are just like happiness in the sense that they are all emotions that come and go, none of which can be sustained for long periods of time.
The complete TLLLF Report included numerous charts which displayed pertinent information to various questions or statements which the Indian participants either answered, agreed with, or were indifferent toward. Below, you will see a handful of what I found to be the most interesting of the charts from the survey:
Though this survey, like most surveys, should be taken with a grain of salt due to the fact that 3,556 Indians is just a drop in the bucket compared to the total population of India (i.e. 1.2 billion), it’s still a significant number of participants, especially seeing as how they are from eight different cities where the interlocutors used a combination of structured quantitative interviews, as well as in-depth qualitative interviews to get the results you see in the charts above.
The exact answers of how to significantly improve India’s perception of mental health in a way that is long lasting and widespread is out of my reach, as is out of the reach of many others.
However, it does seem apparent to me that in the marketplace of ideas, the more awareness that’s brought toward a specific issue, the more likely such ideas will encapsulate the masses. Thus, bringing forth new solutions to better improve the status quo. More resources, more motivated healthcare professionals, more funding, and better education are just a handful of the things needed in India to improve their mental health crisis.