Mental Health in the Indian Context


Dr. Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), in 1954, had presciently declared that “without mental health, there can be no true physical health.” This was followed by many developed nations vigorously as a mantra in their set-up by providing its citizenry with the utmost mental health facilities and services. However, the idea of mental health and the role of psychology in our country doesn’t offer much to its vast populace.

The World Health Organisation states that India has a 7.5% population that suffers from some form of mental disorder and India accounts for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological, and substance abuse disorder burden. And with a massive treatment gap for patients all across the country, these figures are bound to exponentially rise and would be a big hindrance to the development of society at large.

20th century India witnessed the inception of large Mental Health Hospitals and the Introduction of a full-fledged Psychology Department in various universities. Post-independent India took a large step in the Deinstitutionalization and Humanising of mental health patients and various institutes which earlier under the British stood as dark ghostly asylums where the lunatics were kept from whom the community had to be saved.

The number of mental health hospitals had increased at a mere turtle’s pace from 31 to 45 in post-colonial India. With a growing population, these numbers are surely not enough, and statistically speaking the psychiatric bed ratio stands at 1 bed for a 5000 population. After the review of two mental hospitals in 1998 and 2008 by the National Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court observed that 38% of the hospitals have retained their jail-like structure, 57% have high walled structures and patients are referred to as inmates. Moreover trained psychiatric nurses were present in less than 25% of these hospitals. With a deteriorating health facility, it is a strong indicator of the gross human rights violations the mentally ill undergo daily.

This is a scenario that calls for an early cognizance of the matter. The discipline of psychology and it’s students should undertake the responsibility of challenging the status quo. Psychology students should be provided with enhanced practical skills and real-time exposure to the needs and necessities of the large populace.

The government needs to kick-start campaigns on multiple fronts of destigmatizing mental health and bring awareness via door to door campaigns, more number of mental health institutes are needed on an urgent basis. District hospitals should provide training to its workforce in various counseling skills and coping strategies. Even the general physicians should be mandatorily made to undergo training in basic psychological concepts and techniques to help in an early determination of a mental health issue. NGOs should be provided with more autonomy and resources to work in collaboration with the state in tackling this issue that prevails at large.  

In the wake of this Pandemic only time will tell, post COVID 19 what sort of world order and governance model emerges, but for India to take the next progressive step into a developed nation. A prioritization of Mental Health is a must.

If we start being honest about our pain, our anger, and our shortcomings instead of pretending they don’t exist, then maybe we’ll leave the world a better place than we found it.” – Russell Wilson


Abdullah Kazmi is a student of Psychology and Social Science based in Bangalore.  He blogs at The Script. Views expressed here are personal. 





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