Indians with mental illness exceed South African population

New Delhi, October 10 (KMS): As the world observes World Mental Health Day, today, the number of Indians suffering from mental illness exceeds that of the population of South Africa, according to a report compiled by India’s first data journalism initiative – India Spend.

At present, the mentally ill account for nearly 6.5 percent of the country’s population and it is estimated that by 2020 this number will increase to a staggering 20 percent.

Further, the World Health Organisation estimates that nearly 56 million Indians – or 4.5% of India’s population – suffer from depression. Another 38 million Indians – or 3% of India’s population – suffer from anxiety disorders. Many of these people live with both. Many of these illnesses can be treated, but access to treatment is often difficult, and stigma continues to scare individuals away from seeking diagnosis and appropriate treatments even when they are available.

The abysmal state of mental health care in the country is a cause for great concern. Most government-run hospitals do not have psychiatric drugs, and visiting a private shrink and sustaining the treatment – usually a long-drawn-out affair – is an expensive proposition for most families.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare report, India faces a treatment gap of 50-70 percent for mental healthcare, implying that more than half of the population does not get the required treatment and medical facilities. The government data highlights the dismal number of mental healthcare professionals in India – 3,800 psychiatrists, 898 clinical psychologists, 850 psychiatric social workers, and 1,500 psychiatric nurses nationwide. The WHO reports that there are only three psychiatrists per million people in India, while in other Commonwealth countries, the ratio is 5.6 psychiatrists for the same. By this estimate, India is short of 66,200 psychiatrists.

A National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) survey estimates that 13.7 percent of the Indian population above the age of 18 suffers from mental morbidity, requiring active intervention. It also suggests that one in every 20 Indians suffers from depression. Nearly 1 percent of Indians suffer from high suicidal risks. Almost 9.8 million children in the age group of 13-17 years are suffering from mental health concerns and require an active intervention.

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