India is known for its rich culture and heritage. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, it is the second-most populous country in the world. It is a nation which stands as a beautiful example for it’s cohesiveness of different religions and cultures.
But the demerits of these attributes are seen and experienced more often than not.
At least 60 million people in India suffer from mental disorders, out of which 10-20 million suffer from severe mental disorders like schizophrenia, psychotic disorder and bipolar disorder and nearly 50 million suffer from common mental disorders like depression and anxiety.
There is a severe lack of health professionals in India and an even more critical lack of mental health professionals and facilities to treat and accommodate the patients. An estimate drawn from the data collected by WHO tells us that India has only 3 psychiatrists per million people and is short of 66,200 psychiatrists.
While most developed nations spend above 4% of their budget on mental health research, the Indian Government spends only 0.06% of its total health budget on mental health care. To top it all, a major portion of mental health facilities are concentrated in the urban cities of the country, most being in the private sector, making them financially inaccessible by the people below poverty line.
The stigma attached to consulting a psychiatrist proves to be extremely perilous to the deteriorating state of the mentally ill. An Indian family with a member suffering from a physical disease would rush to doctors and hospitals for immediate treatment. But if the same member were to suffer from say, anxiety or depression, it would be ignored or go unnoticed (partly owing to the nature of the disorders) and even if it wouldn’t, the family would fear the consequences of the word of the illness getting around.
Ultimately, the treatment would either be critically delayed or the situation would go unreported. Like in the case of Raj Patel, an 11 year old boy who was locked up and starved in a room for 10 years by his family because he was suffering from schizophrenia and at times turned violent.
In the Indian society-which is driven by the undue importance given to people’s opinions-mental disorders are not viewed as an illness but as a weakness.
Unless the symptoms are severe and visually evident, no treatment or care is offered to the person suffering.
On the other hand, the mental hospitals in India are overcrowded and underfunded with a poor infrastructure that looks anything but hospitable. The Thane Mental Hospital in Mumbai, one of the four public mental-health institutions in the state of Maharashtra has lavatories which exude an intolerable stench. The beds are insufficient and in poor condition and whatever beds are available have bedbugs in them due to which the patients are unable to sleep.
Even then, patients in urban areas are more likely to receive medical treatment than the patients in the rural areas where disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are often associated with the supernatural, a result of black magic, divine retribution or demonic possession. In almost 90% of the cases, the only step of action is to take the person to a place of worship or to faith healers who fill the gap caused by lack of proper medical facilities and education. At such places, the patients are often shackled, beaten and tortured, all under the pretext of warding off evil eyes.
Just like patients suffering from another illnesses, these patients too need love, sympathy and the correct treatment, but such patients are not even treated as humans. Here’s hoping for a better future for the mentally ill in India, one that involves validation, awareness and most importantly, wholesome and proficient medical treatment on a nation wide scale.