Centre plans to ease lives of mental patients

Law will soon become a reality; about 20 million people in India suffer from mental disorder

Millions of mental patients in India can hope for better treatment and care in government hospitals and private asylums in future as the Central government is revising the three-decade old Mental Health Care Act and writing India’s first mental health policy, which are expected to be ready shortly.

Once in place, the policy and legislation along with the revised national mental programme could aid millions of mentally deranged who don’t have much hope left in their lives.

“The policy will establish a link between mental health, domestic violence and alcohol abuse. It will recognise the fact that anybody suffering from serious mental health problems cannot do routine works and unlikely to have identification cards and other documents,” said Keshav Desiraju, special secretary in the Union health ministry, who is heading the policy writing panel.

India has about 20 million people with severe and enduring mental disorders, which account for 12 per cent of the country’s total disease burden. At the same time, there are 50-100 million Indians having some sort of mental problem.

“Mental health problems worsen the outcome of other health conditions. It affects the poor and disadvantageous section of the society the most. It is also one of the main causes of suicide in young adults,” said Vikram Patel, professor of international mental health in London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Patel will now head a new centre on mental health in Delhi, created by Public Health Foundation of India for creating baseline data on mental health, conducting research and generating awareness.

Mental, neurological and substance use disorders are amongst the leading causes of the burden of disease. They include autism, mental retardation and epilepsy in childhood, depression, psychoses and alcohol use disorders in adulthood and dementia in old age.

“Compared to developed nations, the treatment gap in Indian cities is 50 per cent but it goes up to 90 per cent in rural India where abuse of human rights are also very common,” Patel said.

Absence of trained psychiatrists compounded the problem. With a population of 1.2 billion, India needs 132,000 psychiatrists. But it has only 3,000 and they too are concentrated in cities.

11 centres

To address the acute shortage of qualified manpower, the government has set up 11 centres of excellence and 27 post graduate departments in mental health specialities in 11 institutes, health ministry officials said.

At the same time, funds are being provided to upgrade 88 psychiatric wings of government medical colleges and modernising 29 state run mental hospitals. Two central institutes – Central Institute of Psychiatry in Ranchi and LGB Regional Institute of Mental Health in Tezpur – are receiving generous funding support to upgrade its buildings and infrastructure facilities.

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