The number of psychiatrists in India is not enough for building a mentally healthy society. This is the conclusion of almost every report or case study that investigates the status of psychiatric care in India. According to the statistics, there is one psychiatrist per 300,000 people in India. So what is causing this huge gap between requirement and availability? It is quite easy to blame the education system, the medical education or migration of doctors out of India, but there is another aspect that hasn’t been looked into at all- the stigma associated with being a psychiatrist in India.
There are a lot of visible stigmas associated with visiting a psychiatrist. A survey conducted by psychiatrists on 900 people, showed that most people didn’t even consider psychiatrists for consultation or treatment of mental illness. People just don’t want to visit psychiatrists.
A big problem lies in the fact that even undergraduate medical students aren’t exposed to psychiatry properly. There is a compulsory posting of 15 days in a psychiatric ward, but many colleges fulfil that just on paper and it is no surprise that there is a low ratio of students willing to be psychiatrists. When doctors have to choose a specialisation through NEET-PG in India, psychiatry is far behind other branches like paediatrics, orthopaedics and others. It also offers less money than other branches and therefore, it’s not an ideal destination for a budding doctor.
There are a lot of misconceptions about psychiatrists in this country. These are further reinforced by inaccurate depiction of psychiatrists in film and media. An analysis of 26 movies was done between 2001-2010, that included 33 psychiatrist characters. 42.4% of them were incompetent, and 39.4% breached professional ethics. Only 30.3% were shown to have an accurate diagnosis. Psychiatrists are misconstrued in movies often. This inevitably leads to a negative perception among the general public.
There is also a lot of stigma attached to being a psychiatrist. It is somehow considered that psychiatrists are ‘crazy’. It is a belief that only the ‘crazy’ can treat the other ‘crazy’ people, and this is simply not the truth. We don’t expect neurologists to have a brain problem and neither do we think our dentists have cavities. Yet, there is a perception that psychiatrists have a problem! This doesn’t include the belief that psychiatric medicines are money making techniques used by ‘Big Pharma’ for profits. I have discussed that in my article about psychotropic drugs.
This is a big problem which is not discussed very often. Even among advocates of mental health awareness; there is very little appraisal of the situation. We always encourage people to remove the stigma around mental illness but are we willing to de-stigmatise the profession of psychiatry as well?