In rural Karnataka, 16-year-old Veena said, “Amma, I feel unhappy and stressed! I’ve been feeling like this for a few months now! I told my best friend. She told me to talk to a professional.”
Amma was aghast! She looked at her smart and hardworking daughter in shock. “What will people think? They’ll think you are mad!'”
Her father remarked sadly, “Veena, the nearest psychiatrist is 100 km away in the city hospital. We cannot afford to pay for therapy. Depression is a rich man’s disease. Study well! These thoughts will go away.”
Veena realized that she would have to face the demons in her mind all alone. She faked a smile so that her parents would not worry and went back into her room in silence.
This is a typical scenario at any Indian household. Lack of access to mental healthcare and stigma against mental disease are huge barriers to those who ask for help.
Mental health, since ages, has always been a concept surrounded by stigma and judgement.
The statement ‘I need therapy’ and ‘I am crazy’ have been synonymous in the society.
All kinds of deviation from good health such as physical injuries, poor nutrition and poor health, in general, have been normalized. Talking about them and seeking help have not really been much of an issue but mental well-being is not in this zone yet.
World Health Organisation predicts that by the end of this year, 2020, nearly 20% of India will suffer from mental illness. And to cater to this huge population, we have less than 4,000 mental health professionals. This gross mismatch leads to lack of access to mental healthcare for a vast majority of the people which can only be combated by better investment in education and training of mental health professionals and development of mental health programmes with better outreach.
This year, the Mental Health Day theme was ‘Mental Health For All: Greater Investment – Greater access, Everyone, Everywhere.‘ Mental health problems affect the rich and the poor, the young and the elderly, males and females without bias. Mental healthcare is a necessity for every individual, regardless of country, caste, race and creed.
Let us strive to reduce the stigma against mental illness by spreading awareness and support the Government, NGOs and campaigns in making mental healthcare accessible to all. Mental health which has been ignored for decades and has recently come into the spotlight due to celebrity focus must finally receive its due importance as an integral aspect of an individual’s health.