Asia - Pacific

Coronavirus pandemic exacerbates India’s mental health crisis

Indian Psychiatry Society report 20% rise in mental illness cases since pandemic began

Shuriah Niazi   | 10.10.2021
Coronavirus pandemic exacerbates India’s mental health crisis

NEW DELHI

A recent UNICEF survey revealed that only 41% of young people in India said it was a good idea to seek support for mental health problems.

That was compared to an average of 83% in 21 countries.

The report that was released Oct. 5 by India’s Minister for Health & Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya along with a panel of experts, revealed that children and young people in India could feel the effects of the coronavirus on their mental health and well-being for years to come.

On World Mental Health Day, which is observed Sunday, experts in India cautioned that the passing away of family members or close friends, loneliness, loss of livelihood or income, fear and anxiety are sparking mental health conditions or aggravating existing ones.

They also said mental health is considered a stigma in India and so the majority of patients are not ready to receive early mental health intervention.

Psychiatrist and author of, Thank you, Depression!, Pramod Shankar Soni, said: “People are having various issues in India like pressure at work, from the family, from the society. These are all helping in exacerbating mental health issues.

“But because of COVID-19, the situation has really become difficult for the people,” he told Anadolu Agency.

The Indian Psychiatry Society reported a 20% rise in mental illness cases since the beginning of the pandemic. The rate of suicide could increase possibly due to the fear of infection and feeling of helplessness, said Soni.

Mental disorders are among the leading causes of non-fatal disease burden in India and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the burden of mental health problems in India is 2,443 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) per 10,000 population.

DALYs for a disease or health condition are the sum of years of life lost due to premature mortality and the years lived with a disability due to prevalent cases of the disease or health condition in a population.

In 2017, then-Indian President Ram Nath Kovind asserted that the country was “facing a possible mental health epidemic.”

The stigma associated with mental illnesses is a leading reason that those who are affected are not receiving adequate health care and treatment.

Punjab-based government psychiatrist Arun Bansal said authorities have been creating awareness so patients should not shy away from receiving treatment.

“In India, we have seen people visiting religious places when they have depression or anxiety. Timely health intervention can cure them easily,” said Bansal.

Allocation for mental health care abysmally low

Experts said the scenario surrounding mental health has not changed much in India over the years even as WHO estimates that more than 90 million Indians, or 7.5 % of the population of 1.3 billion, suffer from some type of mental health condition but the nation spends just 0.33 rupees, or about $0.5, on a mental health patient annually.

Allocations by the National Mental Health Programme (NHMP) remain abysmally low. In the annual 2021-22 Union Budget in India, released Feb. 1, only $5.3 million (Rs 400 million) was set aside for NHMP that will leave India ill-equipped and unable to cope with the needs of the population, particularly with the additional mental health effects and consequences of the pandemic.

The National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) in 2015-16 found that almost 80% of those suffering from mental illnesses did not receive treatment for more than one year and the situation has not improved since the nation faces an acute shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists.

Mental disorder is a leading cause of suicide in India. The latest data released by the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) revealed that as many as 139,123 Indians died from suicide in 2019, 67% of which were young adults.

The WHO said that suicide is a serious public "health problem" but is "preventable" with timely, evidence-based, and often low-cost intervention.

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