Stigma stalks city's mentally ill | delhi | Hindustan Times
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Stigma stalks city's mentally ill

Mugdha Khanna (name changed) is a 34-year-old single mother and a businesswoman who lives in an upper middle-class area of north Delhi. A few months ago, she developed a depressive mental disorder that made her increasingly violent —Khanna would throw stones at passersby from her window.

delhi Updated: Jul 02, 2012 01:23 IST
Sidhartha Roy

Mugdha Khanna (name changed) is a 34-year-old single mother and a businesswoman who lives in an upper middle-class area of north Delhi. A few months ago, she developed a depressive mental disorder that made her increasingly violent —Khanna would throw stones at passersby from her window.


No one had a clue about her condition till a team from the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) landed at her place after a police complaint.

She was immediately put under treatment as she could have posed a threat to her son.

Today, Khanna leads a normal life. Had it not been for that odd police complaint, her condition might never have been detected. According to a survey by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on urban mental health between 2004 and 2009, 10% of Delhiites suffer from psychiatric illnesses with depression being the most common ailment, followed by anxiety and schizophrenia.

The problem is not confined to the less affluent pockets of the Capital. IHBAS has been running a mobile mental health unit for the past 18 months to reach out to patients. The unit has received 455 calls till date, most of which — 20% — have been from south Delhi.

What makes it sworse is that many people do not seek medical help for such illnesses due to the stigma associated with them.

According to the ICMR survey, only 10-20% mentally-ill people in Delhi seek medical help. This results in cases such as the recent one in Rohini where two sisters Mamta and Nirja Gupta confined themselves to their flat for six years and stopped eating after their father's death eight years ago. They had to be forcibly admitted to a hospital.

"There is an 80% treatment gap when it comes to the mentally ill, which encompasses all social classes," said Dr Nimesh Desai, director, IHBAS. "Cases like the one in Rohini are triggered by severe mental illnesses, compounded by lack of social support. There is stigma attached to mental illnesses and primary caregivers like family also lack information," he said.

"Our society puts emphasis on always achieving and going ahead. If at any point a person doesn't get ahead, it causes a blow to self esteem. This is the main reason for depression in which the person starts hating oneself and feels hopeless about future," said Dr Pulkit Sharma, clinical psychologist, Vimhans. Sharma said a personal loss or adverse life circumstances can also trigger depression.