Mental health care highly neglected in India

By Dr Debakanta Behera, England:

With the passage of Mental Healthcare Bill 2016 in Lok Sabha on 27th March, a well needed impetus is provided to the highly neglected mental health care in India. The Bill which makes affordable mental health care a right for all is already passed in Rajya Sabha in August last year.

The mental health care bill unveiled by health minister Shri Nadda reflects about the increase in funding to provide accessible and affordable health care to people suffering from mental illnesses as well as calling for a higher number of mental health professionals from counsellors to Psychiatrists to be trained.

For the first time, in the history of criminal law reform with regard to mentally ill in our country, this bill seeks to decriminalise acts of suicide by linking it to severe mental stress and illness. By stating that “Any person who attempts suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to be suffering from mental illness at the time of act and shall not be liable to punishment”, the bill lays down proper provisions for the treatment of persons attempting suicide rather than criminalising it. It will help in the long term by reducing stigma among people and families which is commonly associated with mental illness.

Mental health is largely ignored in India with less than half a percent of the health budget being spent on it as compared to 5% in Japan, 6% in USA and more than 10% in United Kingdom being spent.   According to Dr Srinath Reddy, the ex-president of Public Health Foundation of India, this is a landmark bill in independent India which will be critical in improving the overall care for the mental ill patients.

People with severe mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia and Mania are likely to die 10- 15 years earlier than the general population. Mentally ill people are more likely to have drug and alcohol abuse problems as well as homeless and unemployed. Currently there are 3000 to 4000 psychiatrists are practicing in India, which means there are only one psychiatrist available for 3 Lakh population as compared to western countries like England and America where there can be as many as 12 psychiatrists per every 1 Lakh people.

The Mental health care bill, 2016 will bring a much needed change to the overall care of mentally ill patients in India. It’s rights based approach guaranteeing every person the right to access mental health care and treatment will have farfetched impact in  promoting positive mental health and reducing stigma in the community if implemented properly at grass root level with adequate resource allocation by the government.

Associate Medical Director
Consultant Psychiatrist,
National Health Service, England.


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