An institution to promote research and build up capacity aimed at reducing inequalities in access to mental health care

Mental, neurological and substance use disorder are among the leading causes of the burden of diseases globally. In the next two decades, mental, neurological and substance use disorders are projected to have a greater economic toll globally than any major non-communicable disease including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.

In India, these disorders account for 12 per cent of the burden of disease. It is estimated that up to 90 per cent of people with such disorders do not receive evidence based health care. Worse, suicides claim nearly 200,000 lives every year in the country with a majority of them being young adults.

To address these health issues, a Centre for Mental Health has been started by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) in New Delhi. The centre will be a collaborative network of institutions in South Asia, with the shared goals of promoting research, building capacity and advocacy aimed at reducing inequalities in access to care and health outcomes.

Notable examples of these disorders, in terms of the burden of disease, include autism, mental retardation and epilepsy in childhood; depression, psychoses and alcohol use disorder in adulthood; and dementia in old age.

There is a huge disparity between this burden and availability of appropriate mental health services, especially in the South Asian region. Moreover, most services are concentrated in urban areas. There are also instances of human rights violations of patients with mental health disorders in the form of restrictions to their freedom in their homes, in mental hospitals and in traditional healing centres.

India is faced with a severe shortage of specialised mental health care specialists. As against the required 132,000 psychiatrists, it has only 3,000 who are mainly employed in the private sector in urban settings. The subject, however, is receiving attention with completion of the process of revising the Mental Health Care Act. A Mental Health Policy group has also been established with the goal of re-designing the National Mental Health Programme and writing the first National Mental Health Policy.

The Centre for Mental Health will be headed by Professor Vikram Patel who is an adjunct professor at PHFI, joint director of the Centre for Global Mental Health and Professor of International Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.  

The centre will be supported by a research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. The grant, titled SHARE (South Asian Hub for Advocacy, Research and Education on Mental Health), is a five-year programme which aims to reduce the mental health treatment gaps in the region. The centre will also support projects which aim to strengthen mental health systems in low and middle income countries such as PRIME (Programme for Improving Mental Health care), EMERALD (Emerging Mental Health Systems in Low and Middle Income Countries) and several other mental health projects at PHFI and partner organisations.     

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