India’s suicide rate, at 21 suicidal deaths per 100,000 people, is the 12th highest globally
Actress Deepika Padukone’s struggle with depression may have encouraged discussions on mental-health illnesses, but while she was lucky to have support and counselling to deal with it, the mental ill-health scenario in our country leaves for more to be done, say health experts. A shortage of counsellors and the stigma associated with mental-health issues compound the situation.
Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, explains that 90 per cent of the population suffers from some sort of mental disorder or other, making them vulnerable to committing suicide. And, worse, people are less likely to approach a doctor, psychologist or a counsellor.
Happiness Index
“Worldwide, suicide has quadrupled among people in the age group of 15-29. Further, it is the eighth highest killer in the world and rates are increasing globally,” Parikh says.
In fact, India does not fare well on the global Happiness Index, placed 111th in 2013, among 156 nations. Pakistan, Iraq and Bangladesh fared better.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, of the 8,04,000 suicides worldwide in 2012, India topped the table with 258,000 fatalities.
Even in terms of the number of suicides in the country against the total population — India has reasons for concern. The country’s suicide rate, at 21 per 100,000 people, is the 12th highest and is almost double the global average.
While changing economic realities of the country have changed family dynamics, expectations from life and aspirations are some of the factors, directly or indirectly, altering the mental conditioning of people, say experts. Dhruv S Kazi, Assistant Adjunct Professor at Division of Cardiology, San Fransisco General Hospital, University of California, one of the authors of the ‘Causes of Death’ paper — Global Burden of Disease 2013, says that the stigma attached to mental health in India is one of the biggest problems.
Fund factor
Besides, other health concerns — child mortality or maternal mortality — are of such concern that this does not get enough attention, Kazi observes. According to the ‘Causes of Death’ report, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death in India in 2013 with 264,348 deaths, behind pneumonia (403,930), diarrheal diseases (413,226) and tuberculosis (545,516). Johnson Thomas, Director and Co-Founder, Aasra Helpline, which works towards prevention of suicides, agrees. While the Mental Health Bill could, theoretically, help in bringing down suicides, the situation is complicated since there isn’t enough infrastructure available to affect a real, ground-level change, he says.
“Besides the stigma and the fact that anything related to mental health is considered to be ‘madness’ there is the reality that there just aren’t enough funds to make changes,” he said, adding that mental healthcare does not come cheap, with bills at rehab facilities potentially going up to ₹30,000-40,000 a month.
“The Bill is not going to make a difference unless significant funds and manpower are introduced into the public health system,” Thomas added.
Parikh underlines the need for more psychiatrists. India has just about 4,000 psychiatrists (compared to France, which has over 10,000) and the system is not developed to deal with the scale of the problem. He suggests a public-private partnership to improve India’s manpower situation to train more screeners and establish crisis prevention systems, to start with.
(This article was published on January 23, 2015)