- Patralekha Chatterjee, journalist
- 1New Delhi, India
India’s public health community is cautiously optimistic: mental ill health, a problem desperately in need of attention, now seems to be high on the health establishment’s agenda. Two factors—money and staffing—will decide how far and how soon policy prescriptions are translated into practice.
India has a huge unmet need for mental healthcare (box). Without reliable, up to date, disease specific data, it is hard to say how serious the situation is. But official data on suicides are a telling indicator of the challenge ahead: in the decade 2001-11, the number of recorded suicides in the country increased by around 25%, from 108 506 in 2001 to 135 585 in 2010, according to the latest annual report from the National Crime Records Bureau.1
Burden of mental illness
“One of the problems of getting data on mental illnesses is that it represents a class of disorders and the data you get will depend on what is included in the list and what is left out,” Dr Soumitra Pathare—currently a consultant psychiatrist at Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune, India and co-ordinator, Center for Mental Health Law and Policy at the Indian Law Society, Pune—told the BMJ. Pathare pointed out that in older epidemiological studies the prevalence of mental illness varied widely throughout India, from 10 to 370 per 1000 people. This was because of differences in the settings (urban, rural, tribal) and methods used.
An oft-cited report in 2005 by the Indian government’s National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health estimated that nearly 20.5 million Indians had severe mental health disorders.2
This figure was higher in a later study. “All these studies, synthesised, broadly estimate almost 70 million people suffering from mental illnesses,” says Pathare. Several …