The World Health Organization (WHO) in its global health estimates on depression for 2015 has said over five crore Indians suffered from depression and over three crore others from anxiety disorders that year. But sadly in this country, this medical and social challenge has always been brushed under the carpet, though things are changing, albeit slowly. Last year, actor Deepika Padukone came clean on her struggle with depression. Among non-celebrities, however, any sign of deviating from the expected and usual, emotionally and behaviourally, is viewed with a sense of horror. And so the condition festers unheeded till it spirals out of control. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease, WHO has said, asserting that more women are affected by depression than men and at its worst, depression can lead to suicide.
Is India equipped to tackle such a burgeoning crisis? No. There is no insurance coverage for a person with a mental disorder. The WHO Mental Health Atlas 2011 states that the government’s expenditure on mental health was only 0.06% of the total health budget. The country has only 0.301 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. Treatment at the hospitals too leaves much to be desired. The focus is excessively on medication. There are only 3,000 psychiatrists when the estimated requirement is for 11,500. The number of clinical psychologists is just 500 when the estimated requirement is 17,250. Then there are just 400 social workers who can tackle psychiatric patients when 23,000 is the minimum requirement.
Even when it comes to legislation, we are slow. The Mental Healthcare Bill 2013 has been passed in the Rajya Sabha but is awaiting the Lok Sabha’s nod though the bill is progressive in many ways: The definition of mental illness is no more “any mental disorder other than mental retardation.” It is broader and more inclusive. Mental illness is now defined as “a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence.” Needless to say, along with the passage of the bill, the government needs to invest more money in tackling this challenge.