With the Union Health Ministry’s concept on including mental health in the list of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) gaining momentum, the city-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) is working out modalities on implementing this concept in its routine functioning.

NIMHANS director P. Satishchandra told The Hindu that the institute had already started treating mental health on a par with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension in the geriatric population.

“When we are screening elders in our geriatrics clinic, we are also looking at other non-communicable diseases. The growing burden of NCDs will also result in an increase in the number of those requiring mental health services,” Dr. Satishchandra said.

“Tobacco and alcohol — the common risk factors for stroke and heart diseases — are also some form of substance abuse that can have a bearing on the mental health of a person. As mental health is associated with a lot of stigma, not many come forward to seek treatment. The big challenge is how to make mental healthcare accessible to them. In the wake of this, the Union Health Ministry mooted the concept of mental health as an integral part of physical health,” he explained.

According to Dr. Satishchandra, while 3 per cent of mental ailments in India are severe in nature, nearly 40 per cent are minor ones that can be treated or prevented. The minor ailments include anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies and phobic illnesses. “These minor mental ailments can lead to stress, road rage and related behavioural disorders which can even be present in people who do not have any minor mental ailments. So why should these disorders not be treated as any other common disease,” he said.

Mathew Varghese, professor and head of psychiatry in NIMHANS, said this year’s theme for World Mental Health Day — Mental health and older adults — reflected the growing concerns about the mental health of the growing elderly population.

While ageing is a normal physiological phenomenon, diseases increase the risk of complications and accelerate the ageing process. Multimorbidity is a common problem in the elderly.

‘Healthy ageing’

“A hitherto forgotten issue in the health of the elderly is the psychological distress and other common mental health problems. Studies have shown that nearly 40 per cent of the elderly people seeking healthcare have got unrecognised depression. It is also estimated that there are nearly 3.7 million Indians who have dementia. As early diagnosis and treatment are vital in the elderly, the current paradigm of management is “healthy ageing”, he explained.