The Planning Commission has for the first time recognised child and adolescent mental health as a priority issue for budgetary allocation. The decision could impact the 600 million children and young people in the country.
And in another landmark departure from its previous assessment of mental health, the commission has expanded the scope from a purely medical approach to a preventive and community-based one.
In its yet-to-be-released Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012) document, the commission says: “There is currently no budgetary allocation for child and adolescent mental health. The mental health of children is an issue the Eleventh Plan will fund and take up on a priority basis. Counsellors will be appointed in all schools and helplines set up, especially during exams.”
The plan document acknowledges that stress-related suicides and deaths are a leading cause of mortality among young adults in India. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, 7-15 per cent (65 million) of Indian children suffer from significant mental disorders.
Abdul Mabood, director, Snehi, a psycho-social support centre, said: “Preventive care must start at an early stage… The 11th Plan has taken the first step towards that goal.” He added that the economic burden of child and adolescent mental health problems is enormous.
Mabood was among the 11 doctors, academicians and social activists who submitted a letter to the Prime Minister last year seeking budgetary allocation for children’s mental health in the 11th Five Year Plan.
“In these times of IT and multi-media explosion, it is vital to promote positive mental health among children and young people...,” said Deepak Gupta, child psychiatrist and director, Institute of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences.
Child abuse statistics in India are disturbing. “The figures are shocking. According to a Ministry of Women and Child Development report, over 50 per cent children have been sexually abused and 20 per cent have suffered serious sexual abuse,” said Amit Sen, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research.
In keeping with the community-based approach, there will be a focus on awareness drives, defining various kinds of disabilities, generating valid census data, inclusion in all areas of development, and community-based treatment and rehabilitation approaches.
The significance of this approach, said Mabood, is the acknowledgment that mental health does not imply mental illness. “Awareness and community-support at an early stage can help prevent the onset of mental illness.”