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India’s mental healthcare landscape paints a complex picture, rife with challenges

Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru
Saturday, August 26, 2023, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

India’s mental healthcare landscape paints a complex picture, rife with challenges. The persistence of age-old societal stigma surrounding mental health leads to underreporting and inadequate awareness, hindering effective intervention. Even worse, the scarcity of reliable data further complicates efforts to design appropriate policies and leaves numerous individuals unnoticed and without access to treatment, thereby straining the healthcare system, said Tarun Gupta, co-founder of Lissun, a mental health & emotional wellness platform.

Currently in India, mental disorders contribute nearly 15 per cent to the global burden and have become a primary cause of non-fatal disease burden for about 14 per cent of the population. This burden has witnessed a disconcerting rise, nearly doubling its share in the total disease burden since 1990, he added.

Adding to the complexity is the glaring disparity in mental health services between urban and rural areas. Urban centres enjoy better access to mental health facilities and professionals, while rural regions suffer from inadequate healthcare infrastructure. Given that a significant portion of India’s population resides in rural areas, bridging this gap becomes imperative. Moreover, the emigration of trained mental health experts contributes to a shortage in the workforce, amplifying the challenges in service delivery and quality of care. Addressing these disparities demands innovative solutions and comprehensive strategies to ensure equitable access to mental healthcare for all, Gupta told Pharmabiz in an email.

There are a slew of challenges too like prevalence of a deep-rooted societal taboos that impede open discussions about mental health, perpetuating discrimination and isolation for those facing mental disorders. Overcoming these misconceptions requires culturally sensitive awareness campaigns and educational initiatives, he said.

Moreover, mental healthcare has historically received less attention and funding compared to other healthcare priorities, leading to underfunded programmes and limited resources. Addressing this issue necessitates increased commitment from both the government and private sector to bolster mental health infrastructure, Gupta noted.

Then there is the challenge of accessibility, particularly in remote regions. Introducing innovative approaches, such as telemedicine and community-based mental health programs, can help bridge this gap.  This is because the scarcity and uneven distribution of mental health professionals pose obstacles to effective service delivery. Hence encouraging mental health education and supporting professional development can address this imbalance. Further, neglecting the implementation of prevention and early intervention strategies impedes progress in lowering the occurrence and consequences of mental disorders, thereby compromising the overall resilience of society. Besides, the lack of seamless integration between mental healthcare and primary healthcare services poses challenges in early detection and intervention, potentially leading to more severe and long-term impacts of mental health disorders.

As India marches ahead, addressing the escalating burden of mental health disorders emerges as an urgent and collective responsibility. Confronting the challenges in India’s mental healthcare landscape requires comprehensive and compassionate efforts, involving policy reforms, increased funding, awareness campaigns, and research endeavours. By prioritizing mental well-being, India can liberate itself from the constraints of stigma, Dr Gupta said.


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