The unveiling of the first-ever mental health policy by the Union government early this month has also put a spotlight on the ill-equipped health apparatus in Madhya Pradesh to handle such patients.
The state, which, according to an official estimate, is home to about 40 lakh people suffering from some kind of mental illness and 7-14 lakh with severe mental disorders, has just about a dozen psychiatrists in government hospitals. Officials say MP is facing acute shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses.
"We don't have much here in the name of mental healthcare," says Dr RN Sahu, secretary of State Mental Health Authority. "(We have) around dozen psychiatrists in the government hospitals and over a few dozen in the private sector, which is grossly insufficient for a populous state like MP."
Sahu is also a professor and head of the department at psychiatrist wing at Gandhi Medical College and Associated Hospitals, Bhopal. The State Mental Health Authority, constituted as per the provisions of Mental Health Act, 1987, is a statutory body entrusted with the task of development, regulation and coordination of mental health services in the state.
As per the Authority's norms, there should be one psychiatrist for every 1,00,000 people, 3 clinical psychologists for every 2,00,000 people, 2 psychiatric social workers for every 1,00,000 people and one psychiatric nurse for every 10 psychiatric beds. But, actual numbers stand nowhere close to it.
The Centre's new policy stresses on a higher number of mental health professionals from community-based counsellors to specialised psychiatrists. Madhya Pradesh is also battling with the lack of enough mental healthcare institutions and systematic budgetary support.
There are just two psychiatric hospitals in the state - Manasik Arogyasala at Gwalior and psychiatric hospital, Indore. But, sources said, these institutions don't have basic infrastructure and technology to deal with the challenge of testing and treating varied mental disorders.
A senior official in the health department, requesting anonymity, said mental healthcare was not a priority for the state government. "Irrespective of the policy the basic thing is, unless you provide funds for basic infrastructure and required technology, you cannot make any difference on ground," the official said.
The problem is further aggravated by the fact that of six government medical colleges, only the one at Indore offers postgraduate course in psychiatry, and that too just two seats.
"If government is serious about mental healthcare, it has to start courses in psychiatry in all government medical collages. It also has to start courses in clinical psychology, psychiatric social work, psychiatric nursing and occupational therapy in various institutions," said Dr Sahu.