World’s ‘most depressing country’ is facing a mental health epidemic   

It was the World Health Organisation which estimated that one in seven Indians suffered from poor mental health and labelled the country the most depressing country in the world

 World’s ‘most depressing country’ is facing a mental health epidemic   
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Herald View

It was the World Health Organisation which estimated that one in seven Indians suffered from poor mental health and labelled the country the most depressing country in the world. The President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, echoed the view in December, 2017 and warned the country that a mental health epidemic was round the corner. While the President issued the warning at the convocation of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMHANS), he was merely repeating what was already well known. Surveys conducted in India by both Government agencies and non-government organisations had routinely revealed an alarming situation, conceding that 10 percent of the population required professional help and medication while at least two percent of the population required institutional help or hospitalisation. Both are staggering numbers. And the country is not prepared to handle the crisis.

Year after year, particularly on successive World Mental Health Day every October, the country was alerted to the chronic shortage of trained professionals to deal with mental health. Curiously in a country obsessed with a career in medicine and engineering, few doctors prefer to specialise in Psychiatry. And while popular perception holds that women do find the study of Psychology attractive, the country has even fewer psychologists than psychiatrists. The stark fact is that in a country as large as India, with a population of 137 Crore (1,370 million), the number of psychiatrists is a paltry 5000 (five thousand). The number of trained clinical psychologists is stated to be even lower at 2000 (two thousand). With low public awareness and high level of stigma attached to mental illness, the society and the Government have been able to ignore the issue. Instead, the problem has been left to godmen, quacks and practitioners of Yoga and Ayurveda to tackle.

Two kinds of misconception, nurtured by films and popular culture, have served as blinkers. The first misconception is that the successful and the wealthy do not suffer from mental disorder. The recent suicide by a young and successful actor does not seem to have made much dent in the widely held belief. The second misconception is that people who appear to be ‘normal’ have no mental illness. This belief stems from popular caricature that traditionally depicted ‘mental patients’ to be violent, unruly and unmindful of their grooming and surroundings. In popular lore, the mentally ill are disoriented people with no control over what they speak or do.

The fact that the perfectly ‘normal looking’ domestic help, watchman, cab driver or the office colleague could be suffering from not just anxiety syndrome, depression or paranoia but also from more serious ailments is seldom given any serious thought. The fact that rapists, killers and people with suicidal tendencies are often ordinary folks suffering from mental disorder is generally overlooked. The fact however is increasingly acknowledged by employers and marriage counsellors who advise consultations and psychological tests before employing people or marrying them. But we have not given serious thought to the possibility of electing a mentally sick person to high office. But if tests of mental fitness were mandatory before elections, some of our elected representatives would surely have been deemed unelectable. That is how depressing the situation is.

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