Improve access to mental health care

Improve access to mental health care

Yes, we are in 2019, about to embark onto a new year, full of hopes and promises. However, despite the struggles of 2018 that you may have faced and the challenges that you navigated, be prepared for better days to come. 

For the advocates of Mental Health, we are looking forward to 2019 as we have seen certain impactful developments in the mental health space which have created significant ground work for us to build upon in 2019.

It’s time for a recap and an assessment of the mental health space. The challenges amongst us have been huge. India remains a country where reports suggest a suicide every three seconds, with 7.5% of India’s 1.3 billion population suffering from minor to major mental health challenges.

India still has the demand to care for 10 crore people with a paltry around 4000 psychiatrist, 1000 psychologist, and around 43 mental hospitals with a cumulative capacity of 20,000 beds. As per the World Health Organisation, India has only 0.3 psychiatrist per lakh people, which is 1.71 in China and 12.4 in the United States. The present and future may appear grim, but things have changed for the better last year.

Mental Health Care Act, 2017, which was passed on April 7, 2017, came into force from July 7, 2018. The act has been revised for the better, and has resulted in providing the direction and necessary legal recourse on a number of controversial points.

As a result of the act, attempt to suicide has been decriminalised, with it being presumed that a person attempting suicide has undergone a lot of stress and should be provided with due treatment, care, and rehabilitation. 

Also, on a major progressive note, the Act takes a more empowering stance for mental health patients, upholding their right to make decisions pertaining to their health. The Act also mandates insurance providers to include mental health into their offerings in the same way as that of physical ailments. 

Earlier this year, the government decided to launch Ayushman Bharat or PM Jan Aarogya Abhiyan. Although the National Health Protection Scheme has taken much limelight for covering 10.74 crore people with health insurance cover, it is the transformation of 1.5 lakh primary healthcare centres to health and wellness centres (HWCs) that would drive transformation on the ground.

For the first time, mental health has been included in the primary healthcare offerings in substantial manner. A robust network of HWCs at the ground level will increase accessibility to mental healthcare for all sections of society. This is highly important keeping in view that mental health is estimated to cost the Indian economy by $4.58 trillion dollar by 2030. 

Another development that needs a noteworthy mention is leading Bollywood actress, Deepika Padukone coming out in the open once again about the times in countering depression. With such a major celebrity speaking about mental health issues repeatedly since 2015, the taboo subject is gaining more space in public discussions and family conversations. The challenge is gaining a much wider recognition, and Deepika has firmly established herself as a leading torchbearer for mental health awareness. It would be great to see other public figures and celebrities coming out in open and support the cause.

Keeping pace with latest developments, we further emboldened our commitment in the mental health space by launching Poddar Wellness Ltd on December 7 at the 5th edition of India Health and Wellness Summit, an initiative which was graced by Dr Indu Bhushan, CEO, Ayushman Bharat. Committed to drive mental health awareness at the Poddar Wellness Ltd will be offering a wide array of specialised services including online therapy support, courses and programmes for corporate India, peak performance through our mental health and technology synergy, and tools for deep healing. Poddar Wellness Ltd has also formulated the “Urban Quick Wellness Approach” where the launched services will cater to the areas of stress, pregnancy related mental health awareness and fitness in the mind and body. 

Looking at 2019, much needs to be done. It is important we recognise mental health as the first public health challenge and take actions at war footing. A much wider consensus amongst public and private stakeholders is needed, bringing them together, including our workplaces, resident welfare associations, NGOs and community and support groups. It is only through a collective effort that we can make a difference in the health of our nation.

(The writer is an expert in Mental Health, HR, Corporate and Education upliftment, Managing Trustee of the Poddar Foundation and Director Poddar Wellness Ltd)