Trigger Warning: Mention of Self-harm
Gargi, a resident of Meerut, hasn’t been to school in more than a year. She sleeps for more than 13 hours a day and the rest of the time is either spent on screen to attend online classes or scribbling homework in her notebooks.
Gargi went from being a chirpy extrovert to a quiet girl with soulless eyes and a few blade cuts on her thighs that she hopes nobody notices. She needs help but doesn’t know how to seek it.
Her father, with his humble middle class income, does not have the money to afford private therapy and the government remains ignorant towards the need for qualified clinical psychologists in public hospitals.
Meerut is a city in Uttar Pradesh, developing in the shadow of Delhi. It is home to some prominent universities like CCS, LLRM, attracting students from nearby towns and districts. It is developing quickly and with the Delhi–Meerut Regional Rapid Transit System underway, there will soon be no stopping for this city.
The cost of this rapid urbanisation in the midst of a pandemic comes in the form of a looming mental health crisis. With an estimated population of 17.28 lakhs as per the World Review Population, Meerut only has one known clinical psychologist in accordance with DMHP.
Dr. Sanjay Kumar is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Chaudhary Charan Singh University and has been running a not-for-profit NGO, Mental Health Mission in Meerut and neighbouring towns, in the capacity of Honorary President.
Dr. Kumar shares that a non-implementation of District mental Health Program (DMHP) has proved to be hazardous in today’s time. DMHP was added in 1996 and calls for modernisation of state mental hospitals and up-gradation of psychiatric wings of medical colleges/general hospitals.
This isn't the only issue. There is no regulation or govt backing for therapists in India which is another reason why they charge high fees. Anyone who has done a degree/diploma/certificate course in psychology can start practicing as one. This is dangerous and highly unethical.
— Screaming Potato (@pepsiwithastraw) March 30, 2021
Kamini Deshmukh and Manisha T Karia in the column, ‘Urgent need for reforms in law and policy for Mental Health in India’ explain that the objective of DMHP is to integrate basic mental health services with other health services.
It also aims to create public awareness about mental illnesses and fight against the stigma associated with it. Central to DMHP is the idea of treatment and rehabilitation of mental patients in the community through early detection and treatment.
Dr. Sanjay Kumar attributes the onset of this crisis to the lack of an integrated mental healthcare body. According to him, the onus of mental health is put entirely on psychiatrists who have little to do with rehabilitation.
With very few hospitals having a psychiatric facility as it is, there are no psychologists to be found in most of them. He believes that the appointment of psychiatric nurses, psychiatric social workers and clinical psychologists by the government and not merely psychiatrists in Meerut hospitals can change the scenario.
The sorry state of affairs is exacerbated by the apathy of schools as they employ counsellors with minimum to no qualification only to fill in as substitute teachers instead of giving students the space to reach out for help.
The lack of a government budget allocated to cater to mental disorders and failure to utilise resources does little to fight against the stigma, especially in small cities like Meerut.
The Central and State Governments have taken no action to build rehabilitation facilities like halfway-homes despite National Mental Health Policy (NMHP), DMHP, and the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.
With the raging pandemic, the horrors of India’s mental health epidemic have also come to the fore. It is important that both the central and state governments are pressured for more than construction and demolishment of religious institutions. Health is a right under Right to Life and it’s time we take it.
There needs to be a push to promote mental health while also making it cost-effective. Easy access to mental health professionals at primary healthcare level would give an impetus to the overall growth of the country, both emotionally as well as economically by reducing stress and anxiety.
With collective effort and enough pressure on policymakers, residents of big and small cities alike would not have to resort to extreme steps as a way out. Cities like Meerut have a long way to go in their journey to achieve overall health, but the speed must be accelerated by taking into consideration the implications of poor mental health.