Today, October 10, marks World Mental Health Day. This year the World Health Organisation has made the theme psychological first aid. They write:

“Despite its name, psychological first aid covers both psychological and social support. Just like general health care never consists of physical first aid alone, similarly no mental health care system should consist of psychological first aid alone. Indeed, the investment in psychological first aid is part of a longer-term effort to ensure that anyone in acute distress due to a crisis is able to receive basic support, and that those who need more than psychological first aid will receive additional advanced support from health, mental health and social services.”

Mental Health
Photo Credit: WHO/ World Vision International

It’s definitely worth thinking about, since in India we have been woefully underprepared and shockingly understaffed to deal with mental health issues — whether for those in acute distress or in crisis situations. It never ceases to amaze that in a state that has seen perennial conflict for decades, Jammu and Kashmir at last count had only three major centres for treatment, and according to this report, even there, there is a lack of trained mental health professionals and counsellors.
And this is even as a report by the Médecins Sans Frontières, The Department of Psychology at Kashmir University and the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Kashmir last year found that 1.8 million (45%) adults in the Kashmir Valley have significant symptoms of mental distress.

The issue is not just limited to the Valley. Across the country, according to the World Health Organisation’s Mental Health Atlas (2011), there are 0.301 psychiatrists per 100,000 Indians overall, and 0.047 psychologists for the same number of our population.

There are 0.301 psychiatrists per 100,000 Indians overall, and 0.047 psychologists for the same number of our population.

There are several issues at play here, and even if you keep aside infrastructure and lack of access to trained mental health experts, there is the lack of awareness, and even stigma that remains when we look at mental health conditions. I asked psychologist Arpita Anand to weigh in on these challenges and whether she’s noticed any changes over the past decade or so.

She tells SheThePeople.TV, “It is all of the above reasons you highlight. However, there is greater awareness now and that is reducing the stigma. As people begin to realise that mental illness is not a sign of weakness but is similar in concept to physical illness, they are more one to seeking treatment.”

When it comes to the lack of trained experts, she says, “The difficulty does come in as there are not enough trained mental health professionals and many of those who need help will never really get the help. It is in this context that a lot of work I do now with this NGO called Sangath, is based on training non specialist health workers (NSHW). We believe that NSHW can be trained to deliver evidence based psychological treatments and several studies we are doing show positive results. This may change the way people access care.”

In conclusion, perhaps we can look past the grim stats, beyond the picture of gloom and doom in India, because of course there are many people punching way above their weight, and many trying to ensure that people who need help get it… not to mention millions of people bashing on, day by day, regardless of the stigma and lack of empathy and understanding. Here’s how we can all pitch in.




Do check out a new initiative called The Health Collective, where we are sharing the  facts that you need to know, and many of your stories on dealing with different mental health conditions…and overcoming them. 
Tweet us @healthcollectif / email amrita[at] if you’d like to contribute your story.


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