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Dearth of mental health specialists in India

Despite an increase in suicidal cases among adolescents, there is a dearth of mental health specialists in the country, reports Pritika Ghura.

delhi Updated: Jun 13, 2007 18:43 IST

Students were just breathing a sigh of relief after the declaration of results by CBSE, that another fear engulfed them - that of not making it through the first cut off list. With growing competition and high expectations all around them many students suffer from pangs of anxiety and stress. In extreme cases some students even end their lives.

Academics is not the only reason that pushes students to the edge. Fitting in with peers, addiction or personality disorders, depression or stress, are reasons that compound the already existing problem of high expectations.

Divyoshri Chatterjee, a student from St. Anthony school says, "I am nervous despite scoring a decent percentage as I don't know whether I'll be able to get the course and college of my choice. I also worry whether I would clear my entrances. Even a 95 % for commerce students is not good enough."

Agrees Rohit Shah, who is suffering from stress even after declaration of boards result as he is not sure whether he'll be able to secure a seat in Economics (hons) in an A-Grade college.

Despite an increase in suicidal cases among adolescents, there is a dearth of mental health specialists in the country. The demand for shrinks is on a rise as more and more schools and universities are hiring counselors and people are opening up to the idea of taking counseling from professionals in all aspects of life - personal as well as professional.

Dr Nimesh Desai, head of department of psychiatry at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) and a member of Indian Psychiatry Society says, "There are about 3,500 psychiatrists, 1500 clinical psychologists and very few psychiatric social workers in our country catering to a population of one billion. With the kind of problems our youth face, there is a huge disproportion between the demand and supply."

These figures are alarming considering a recent report by World Health Organisation, which says that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives and that these disorders account for 12 per cent of global burden of diseases.

According to Monica Kumar, a clinical psychologist who runs an NGO called Manas, the estimated case load for major mental disorders in India is 1,02,70,165 and for minor disorders it is 5,12,51,625. The ideal requirement of psychiatrists is 9696 and that of clinical psychologists is 13259. However, there are only 2219 available psychiatrists and 343 clinical psychologists in our country.

While there are several reasons accounting for the dearth of mental health specialists in the country, the foremost one is lack of educational institutions, infrastructure and specialisation. The need of the hour is more trained mental health specialists in the country who can help the youth deal with stress and other psychological problems.

The problem is not just the lack of institutes but also brain drain. "About 150 to 200 psychiatrists get trained in the country every year, but they go abroad to pursue their dream careers," says Desai. It is also a major setback to the health system in our country and leads to huge human resource deficit in the country. Desai adds that there is a 30 per cent gap between the demand and supply for psychiatrists and 80 per cent gap for clinical psychologists in the country.

The future though holds promise. "With an increase in awareness about the demand of mental health specialists in India, which is portrayed by the media, more and more students are opting for psychiatry in their MD, " says Samir Parekh, consultant psychiatrist with Max Healthcare. Hopefully it is not going to be long before we will be able to meet the WHO standards.