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Mental health in India: 7.5% of country affected; less than 4,000 experts available

By next year, roughly 20 per cent of India will suffer from some form of mental illness.

, ET CONTRIBUTORS|
Oct 10, 2019, 10.29 AM IST
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Even with awareness, mental health is complex. Without awareness, the situation can go completely out of hand. (Representative image)
I came across a book recently — 'The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind: My Tale of Madness and Recovery'. It is the incredible real-life story of Barbara Lipska, the director of the Human Brain Collection Core at the National Institute of Mental Health in America who was diagnosed with brain cancer. Despite being an expert on the human brain who had studied mental disorders for 30 years, she had no clue for ‘quite a while’ that she herself was afflicted with a mental disorder as a consequence of her illness. This lack of self-awareness is a defence mechanism of the mind, clinically known as anosognosia and characteristic of several psychiatric conditions.

Another story I heard was of a lady called Mary Alice Do, who didn’t know she had a mental illness till the age of 45 and that she was bi-polar until she was 59. And this despite the fact that she had experienced suicidal thoughts since college, even during phases when everything in her life was perfectly fine. There was time in her life after her husband had passed and her daughters had gone off to college when she was feeling a little down and lonely. Her doctor had prescribed her an anti-depressant. As she recalled, after taking the anti-depressant, she would become so happy that she would dance around her bedroom. What these stories tell you is that even with awareness, mental health is complex. Without awareness, the situation can go completely out of hand.

Here are some facts that I have reiterated often and always felt alarmed by:

A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that 7.5 per cent of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental disorder. Mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders and India accounted for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden. The treatment gap, which is defined as the prevalence of mental illnesses and the proportion of patients that get treatment, is over 70 per cent. WHO also predicts that by 2020, roughly 20 per cent of India will suffer from mental illnesses. And to cater to this demographic, we have less than 4,000 mental health professionals.

When it comes to physical health, people are so conscious and aware these days. They know everything there is to know: what super-foods eat and what not to eat, what the latest diet fads are, what the most cutting-edge workouts to stay fit are, and how to monitor every aspect of their health with state-of-the-art fitness bands.

​Mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders, and India accounts for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden.​ (Representative image)
Mental illnesses constitute one-sixth of all health-related disorders, and India accounts for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden. (Representative image)

But when it comes to mental health, the awareness just isn’t there. Just like Mary Alice Do, so many people aren’t even aware that they may be suffering from a mental health concern. Educating people about mental wellbeing, however, is a battle in itself.

In our country, the discovery of a mental illness is often followed by denial and hesitation to seek help. Despite its enormous social burden, mental health remains a taboo subject that is susceptible to age-old stigmas, prejudices and fears. Even though mental disorders can be cured or controlled, most people tend to sweep their issues under the carpet and suffer in silence. Not only do we need to actively foster awareness about mental health, we also need to create awareness about the absurdity of the stigmas attached to mental health, in order to eradicate them.

It is important for everyone to get involved. Workshops and programs in schools, colleges, corporates and communities can help foster a movement for mental health. We must all learn to identify and red-flag signs of mental health concerns in ourselves and in others. A partnership between psychiatrists, psychiatric social workers, anthropologists, NGOs, and local volunteers could play an important role in fostering mental health awareness and making mental health services accessible to the masses.

Supporting individuals to talk openly and without inhibitions about their mental health issues is the crucial first step. Family and friends helping the individuals seek professional help is the next one. At times, if we see red-flags of mental health issues in someone close to us, we must think of it as our responsibility to affect an intervention with the help of others.

The internet and the social media have a huge role to play as well. They have the power to break taboos and alleviate stigma. Online apps and support groups can put those who are suffering in touch with those who can help or are facing similar concerns. Those who have recovered from mental illnesses are telling their stories via the social media to inspire others, across barriers of language, borders and cultures. A mental health campaign on the social media is the fastest way to reach out to people. And as our change-makers, our youth have to lead the way in changing mindsets.
Being aware of emotions, thoughts and reactions helps maintain balance. (Representative image)
Being aware of emotions, thoughts and reactions helps maintain balance. (Representative image)

Just as charity begins at home, so does mental health awareness. There are several coping mechanisms that we can employ in our day-to-day to improve our own emotional intelligence and mental well-being exponentially.

We must learn to balance our positive and negative feelings. It is impossible for an individual to not have any negative feelings at all. Being aware of our feelings, processing them and expressing them can allow us to balance the negative feelings with positive ones and instil a sense of optimism in ourselves. And if we feel we can’t overcome the negativity, then it is time to seek professional help.

To periodically reevaluate our lives, see what has impacted us emotionally and intellectually, and to review our life’s journey objectively helps put things properly into perspective for us. It allows us to shed the mental baggage that we so often begin to unconsciously carry with us from time to time.

It is also important for us to learn to take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, behaviors and actions. All of us have shortcomings just as we have our plus points. All of us make mistakes from time to time; all of us develop invisible mental health concerns. To be aware of what we are thinking, how we are reacting and what we are doing keeps us balanced as personalities and allows us to make crucial changes in our lives. At times, it is also beneficial to seek constructive feedback about ourselves. It helps us become aware of how we are engaging with the world. As in the case of Barbara Lipska, it was only the intervention from family and friends that made her realise that she was suffering from a mental illness along with her cancer.

All in all, starting with our own lives, all of us have the joint responsibility of affecting change and encouraging others to do the same. This World Mental Health Day, let’s all of us pledge to promote mental health awareness in our families, in our communities and in society. Let’s pledge to ‘spread the word’; let’s pledge to ‘stamp out stigma’.

Make Notes, Eat Healthy & Exercise Daily: 7 Ways To Fight Depression

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Combat Depression

10 Oct, 2018
Stress and frustration can lead to depression, further affecting mental health. While it is imperative to consult with a medical professional if symptoms of depression are noticed, certain modification in one's lifestyle can help in combatting mild depression. However, moderate to severe depression requires the treatment with medications. Nevertheless lifestyle changes do help in recovering as well as preventing the condition and future episodes. Dr Pallavi Aravind Joshi, Consultant Psychiatrist of Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield (Bengaluru) shares 7 tips to combat depression.
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(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)
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