The ‘copy and paste’ Government: No, there’s no data on Mental Health
During the monsoon session two questions were raised in Parliament pertaining to mental health. The answer unsurprisingly was that the government had no data
The 2018-19 Economic Survey report highlighted how data would be used to improve the delivery of government programmes and policies.
The philosophical reasons given for this was that data must be treated as a ‘public good’ and should be accessible even to those who cannot pay for it. Public policy and research remain poorly informed in the absence of quality data, which further impacts implementation and outcomes. Thus, the proclamations in the Economic Survey heralded a hopeful future.
Fast forward to the 2021 and the promise has not been met. In the ongoing Monsoon session and the previous sessions of Parliament Union ministries have claimed to have no data – be it on the death of migrant workers or deaths due to lack of oxygen during the second wave of the COVID19 pandemic.
It cannot be said with certainty whether the government is not collecting data or it simply does not want to make data available to even Parliament.
The ongoing Parliament session has provided some interesting insights into how the Union government is dealing with information. During this session two questions were raised in Parliament pertaining to mental health. The answer unsurprisingly was that the government had no data.
Most organisations working on issues related to mental health have been aware of the lack of data for a long time. The only recent source of data on the status of mental health in India is the National Mental Health Survey, 2016 undertaken by NIMHANS. In response to any question raised in Parliament on mental health, the government quotes this dated data, which overlooks several aspects that affect mental health and role of structural determinants.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare clearly puts very little effort into answering the questions.
While the two questions asked during the Budget Session and the ongoing session are somewhat different, the answers given are exactly the same: copy pasted as is.
The world over, the pandemic has brought out the importance of mental health and the need to make mental health system more accessible. In India, while all sections of society have been affected by the pandemic, vulnerable and marginalised groups have been affected excessively. A slowing economy, increased unemployment, food insecurity and lack of social safety nets have pushed 75 million Indians into poverty, according to Pew Research.
The correlation between mental health and poverty, though well established, remains unrecognized by the Govt, with mental health being seen from a strictly medical lens.
For mental health, this is a matter of grave concern as there is not a single data source dedicated to solely assessing the status of the mental health of individuals and the community. While the problems are well known, the exact scale remains unknown.
There is evidence from other parts of the world to show an increase in mental health difficulties and distress since the pandemic began. In India though, the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health remains poorly documented.
The fact that the Health Ministry is simply copy-pasting answers in response to questions raised in Parliament, is yet another blot on the promise of good governance.
(Manisha Shastri is a Mental Health Researcher & Social Worker specialising in Disability Studies)