India faces an acute shortage of mental health care professionals, including psychiatrists, considering the high prevalence of mental health disorders.

Studies suggest that approximately 13 per cent of the entire population may actually be suffering from some kind of mental disorder — 10 per cent with minor ailments such as stress, anxiety and depression while the remaining with serious disorders such as schizophrenia. Alcoholism and psychotropic addiction are also included in this.

According to a Mental Health Survey carried out by the Directorate General of Health Services in 2002, there were only about 2,219 psychiatrists in the country, against the required 9,696. The number of clinical psychologists was 343, against the desired 13,259. Similarly, psycho-social workers available were only 290, against the required 19,064, while the number of psychiatric nurses was not available, though over 4,000 such trained nurses were required then. Also, while there were about 21,000 beds for mental health patients in the government sector, the number was just about 5,100 in the private sector.

The country has 43 government mental health facilities, though a huge number of private facilities, known as psychiatric nursing homes, have come up. Delhi alone has 16 such facilities. The State governments are authorised to register these private facilities.

The number of psychiatrists and nurses may have marginally gone up since then and the number of patients too would have gone up substantially.

“I think we need to address mental health issues, both by addressing demand for and supply of services, and by services I mean evidence-based medical and psycho-social interventions that can address a wide range of mental health problems, including their prevention,” said Dr. Vikram Patel, eminent mental health expert and Professor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

This required multiple actions, from awareness building in communities and in the health workforce, to the creation of new community-based human resources skilled in providing psycho-social interventions and building capacity of primary health workers for delivery of medical interventions, he told The Hindu.

There is a huge debate going on in the country over the nature of treatment that must be provided to people with mental disorders. While a majority believes it should be home and community based — considering the condition of mental homes and public facilities — there are others who believe institutional care is also required, particularly for women, as people with mental health issues are often disowned by families and hence vulnerable to exploitation.

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