The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that depression will be the theme for this year’s World Health Day, which is being marked today.
HT spoke to Professor B N Gangadhar, director of the National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) at Bangalore, who has been working on spreading awareness about mental health disorders.
What, according to you is the biggest hurdle that prevents people from getting help for psychiatric disorders in India?
There are two things — poor awareness and the stigma associated with mental illness. While people approach doctors for major psychiatric disorders, in which the symptoms are easily recognisable, very few with mild to moderate depression reach out for help.
What are the main treatments for depression?
The main treatments for depression are counselling and taking medications called anti-depressants. The medicines balance the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain, and are prescribed for moderate to severe cases. Studies have shown that yoga and meditation can also help combat depression.
Is psychiatric treatment in India affordable, compared to Western countries?
Yes, treatment in India is more affordable than in most western countries as medicines are cheaper. In the United States, though psychiatric disorders are covered by insurance, the number of times one can visit a doctor is limited.
Is there a dearth of studies on mental health disorders in India?
No, I don’t think there is a shortage of studies related to mental health disorders in India. The 2015-2016 survey by NIMHANS was very comprehensive and covered all zones. One of the major recommendations of the report was that the treatment gap needs to be bridged.
The WHO Mental Health Atlas 2011 states that the government’s expenditure on mental health in India was only 0.06% of the total health budget. Do you think there is a need to spend more?
I think the government’s entire health budget needs to be increased. Once that is done, the budget for mental health care will increase.