Getting to Grips With Mental Health Problems in India

February 18, 2016| By Varsha Gujarathi | Disability, Life | English

Region: Asia

Mental health conditions frequently afflict young adults, and the majority of individuals simply never receive appropriate treatment for their life-long conditions. This can be the result of inadequate healthcare, the belief that problems will merely resolve, or from suspicions around treatment.

Despite sophisticated theories of mental functioning developed over many centuries, the system of values, traditions and behaviors prevalent in much of the country remain antithetical to the acceptance of mental illness. Stigma and limited basic knowledge of mental disorders still represent significant obstacles to seeking help.

India has a population of more than 1.25 billion but access to appropriate care is not universal, leaving gaps in services that affect many people. Instituting the National Mental Health Policy in 2014 was a positive step in India. It aims to decrease the treatment gap, disease burden and extent of disability due to mental illness.

In India the distribution of mental disorders varies with age, socioeconomic status, gender and geographical setting. People in rural and poorer communities experience more difficulty in gaining access to affordable professional help. The scope for treatment in most places is very restricted, which compromises the quality of care.

Rapid urbanization has affected the whole population but especially the most vulnerable sections of society. Urban populations are heavily influenced by challenging cultural dynamics, including the effects of homelessness, violence and isolation that lead to particular mental health problems, such as depression, alcoholism and delinquency.

The stigma of mental health conditions remains potent and a lack of adequate resources to combat it is a crucial impediment. Many individuals, and their families, remain in denial of mental health problems and consider seeking help a sign of weakness. To an extent, the social stigma means it is difficult for a person with a history of mental illness to lead a normal life in India either socially or professionally.

There has been little study of suicide motives in India. Perhaps the pressure of new economic opportunity and of social fragmentation leaves some disappointed when their aspirations are not met but not all suicides are due to situational depression.

For insurers in India, just as elsewhere, mental health disorders represent an important mortality and morbidity concern. Underwriters, however, face particular barriers in looking beyond symptoms to evaluate the influence of vulnerability, personality, life events and situational difficulties. Mental health classification is a vexing issue even in places with more open discussion, acceptance, and resources devoted to diagnosis and treatment. Many problems remain around the language used (read the blog Understanding Depression for Fairer Risk Assessment).

While much remains to be done, India has come a long way in developing services for those experiencing mental health problems. A noticeable shift in awareness has occurred since several national celebrities opened up about their own struggles with depression. Greater promotion of mental health and improved provision for treatment and the myriad other improvements envisaged in the National Mental Health Policy can only help.

For more about the prevalence of mental health condtions, and the disabling effect they have on people around the world, see the Gen Re blog series on mental health.


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