Mental health-related issues are rising in India according to the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, which tabled its 148th report on ‘Mental Health Care and Its Management in Contemporary Times’, in Parliament, earlier this month, cautioning that the country lags with inadequate staff, medical infrastructure and budgetary allocation.
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According to the panel, mental health refers to a state of well-being that enables people to cope with the stress of life. The Committee stated that India currently has 0.75 psychiatrists per lakh people, which is significantly low.
The Committee observed that if India targets having three psychiatrists per lakh people, it will need 27,000 more psychiatrists. This scenario is similar for other professionals such as psychologists, psychiatric social workers, and nurses. The Committee also suggested increasing the number of seats for MD Psychiatry courses.
Highlighting the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the psycho-social well-being of all groups, especially children, adolescents, and caregivers, it noted the need for evidence-based interventions for developing infrastructure and other policies around mental health.
Quoting that the Ministry of Health and Welfare commissioned a mental health survey in 2015-16, the Committee said that the issues highlighted in the 2015-16 survey have remained the same in 2023. “There is considerable scope to improve the treatment gap. Reasons for the gap include lack of mental health professionals, weak infrastructure and stigma,’’ said the report which seeks to examine the status of infrastructure, regulatory structure, and causes behind its prevalence.
Meanwhile, the Committee has also expressed its worry about the decrease in funding of tertiary care programs and noted that it feared that the reduced budgetary allocation would hamper the state of tertiary-level mental health institutions in the country.
As per the Notes on Demands for Grants for 2023–24, the total Budget Estimate (BE) for the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MoHFW) is ₹89,155 crore; of this ₹2,980 crore is the BE for the Department of Health Research. The remaining ₹86,175 crore is the BE for the Department of Health & Family Welfare. In FY-24, under the MoHFW budget, allocations for mental health were as follows - National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences, (NIMHANS), Bengaluru (₹721 crore); Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Regional Institute of Mental Health, Tezpur (₹64 crore) and the National Tele-Mental Health Programme (₹134 crore).
“The Committee, after analysing budget numbers, said allocation is woefully short of escalating demand for mental health care and hinders the improvement of existing infrastructure. The Committee strongly recommended that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare conduct an in-depth assessment of current mental health infrastructure, identifying gaps and deficiencies that need urgent attention,” it said.
Jaswant, senior resident, Department of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, said: “In 2010, global economic losses of around $2.5 trillion annually were attributed to poor mental health, stemming from diminished well-being and productivity. This will surge to $6 trillion by 2030. The latest report highlights inadequate funding for care and research. Addressing this requires not only increased financial support and expanded psychiatry residency programs but also the establishment of positions for trained psychiatrists within institutions and district mental health programs. Furthermore, ensuring an ample number of working psychologists is essential to effectively operate any mental health facility and reduce the treatment gap.”
The Committee also recommended that the Ministry should ensure essential medicines are available concerning mental health issues and suggest that the government further leverage the network of wellness clinics and tele-medicine to benefit patients.