Tue, 13 Oct 2009 Feature Article

Mental health related stigma reduces access to existing services

Mental health related stigma reduces access to existing services

Alka Pande, CNS
The studies reveal that more than 80 percent people with mental health problems face stigma as one of the main barriers to recovery. "It is sad because most of the mental health problems are manageable through simple psychological interventions," said Prof Manju Agarwal, the psychologist and a faculty in the Amity University.

The fortunate part is that most mental illnesses can be successfully treated, according to Dr PK Khattri, the Clinical Psychologist, who runs a Drug de-addiction centre and psychiatric hospital in Lucknow – the capital of Uttar Pradesh in India. He says that the people affected by mental illnesses can recover and continue to lead normal productive lives. However, fewer than 20 percent people with mental health problems manage to work in a normal fashion because they are so stigmatised. Stigma is one of the major difficulties faced by people with mental illness, due to which they hesitate in seeking help. Even the families most of the times keep such ailments hidden.

* One in four people experience a period of mental illness at some stage in their lives – World Federation of Mental Health (WFMH)

* By 2020 depression alone will be the second biggest ailment in the world after heart disease – World Health Organisation (WHO)

These are a few facts and statistics, which the educationists and medical experts discussed threadbare for the benefit of the students of Amity University on World Mental Health day, on October 10. The World Mental Health Day was first observed by the World Federation of Mental Health in 1992.

The status of mental health is not very encouraging in India –primarily because of stigma attached to the problem. The National Human Rights Commission estimates that there are 20 million people in the country who suffer from serious mental health ailments and then there are about 50 million people who have some or the other type of mental problem.

"After accidents, suicide is the major cause for the death of people in the age group of 10 and 24," Urvashi Sahni, the founder of Study Hall quoted the World Health Organisation statistics. An educationist by profession, Sahni zeroed in on three primary mental states "deep sense of alienation," "identity crisis," and "inability to handle the unable expectations," which cause stress in youngsters. "When they are unable to handle the stress, these students resort to the drastic step of committing suicide," she said.

Relationships are the major cause of stress because they often go undercover. The parents do not take the matters relating to their children's relationships seriously. The children do not find a confidante in their parents to discuss their issues. The end result is that children deal with their stress alone and when they fail to take it anymore, they sometimes go to the extent of committing suicides, Sahni explained.

What causes suicide is mostly depression, stress, personality disorder alcohol or drug dependence, or other serious ailments like schizophrenia.

Detailing on what stress actually is, she said most of the stresses are emitting from ego, low self esteem and fear of rejection. "Accepting oneself and others as one is or others are, is the fundamental behavioural change which can train youngsters to handle stress," she explained.

The students can also turn their negative stress into positive stress, said Maj Gen KK Ohri, the Director General of Amity University. When stress is led to a positive direction it can help a person produce the best results, which happens with people who perform the best in a crisis situation, said Ohri.

The fact remains that any sort of mental illness including continuous stress, causes digestive problems, which gradually leads to other physical problems.

In July 2009, at a second regional review meeting on Mental Health a representative of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had elaborated upon medical services in the field of mental health. He had said that there are only forty mental health centres all across the country with less than 3,500 psychiatrists and less than 1,500 nurses to take care of them. These numbers are insignificant compared to growing incidences of mental health problems occurring due to modern life style, which is full of stress.

Citing shortage of medical professionals in mental health care, The NHRC representative had recommended that the subject should be made compulsory component of the medical curriculum in the country. However, in India Mental health stream remains the last in the list of priority of the medical students.

Alka Pande, CNS
(The author is a senior Journalist and a Fellow of Citizen NewsService (CNS) Writers' Bureau. Website: )

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