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How is mental illness stigma making us sicker today

Stigma associated with mental illness becomes an obstruction in seeking help

The condition of mental illness has seen an alarming rise in the country in the last few years. Globally, the total number of people suffering from depression was estimated to exceed 300 million in 2015. But if that’s the case, why does a developing country like India still carry the burden of mental illness stigma? According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, depression became India’s tenth biggest cause of early deaths in 2015. Moreover it’s a matter of concern that it is more common in women than men. Untreated depression primarily comes from the stigma associated with mental disorders, and nearly 80 percent of the patients had not received any treatment.

In today’s fast paced life, stress persecutes each one of us. When Deepika Padukone opened up about being depressed, she was at the peak of her career. Yet, when other actresses like Jiah Khan or Pratyusha Banerjee committed suicide, people and the media chose to dig the dirt out of their failed relationships and declining careers. This shows that the stigma is not just about seeking treatment but also about accepting the fact that mental disorders are very common today. Celebrities have already taken the first step to remove this stigma by sharing it with the people to spread awareness. People like Deepika Padukone have gone further ahead and founded an NGO called Live Laugh Love to fight depression.

According to World Health Organisation, 322 million people are living with depression worldwide and nearly half of them live in South East Asian and Western Pacific region, reflecting relatively large populations of India and China. India is one of the most depressed countries in the world with 36% of its population being mentally ill. India accounted for the highest estimated number of suicides in the world in 2012, according to a WHO report published in 2014 which found that one person commits suicide every 40 seconds globally.

Research has demonstrated that depression can be triggered by big ‘life events’ such as childbirth. Apart from major events, depression can even be set off by the small stuff such as a stressful week at work – perhaps a bad quarter or sluggish sales – events that ordinarily would have been manageable but all of a sudden, they become too much. And if that wasn’t discomforting enough, here’s the kicker: researchers agree that in many cases, depression might not even need a trigger since many of us are simply predisposed to be anxious personalities.

Health and Family Welfare Minister J.P. Nadda informed the Lok Sabha in May 2016, quoting data from the National Commission on Macroeconomics and Health 2005, that depression and anxiety disorder builds up to 5 per cent of the population of the country.

According to a 2011 WHO report, India spends only 0.06 per cent of its health budget on mental health care while other developed nations spend above 4 per cent of their health budgets on mental health research, infrastructure, frameworks and talent pool. Is it because of the stigma to accept that mental health is as important as physical health or to even talk about it? Even in the most educated circles, it is rare to see people discussing mental health, let alone the less educated people.

This disgrace associated with mental illness has resulted in people failing to address their mental problems and seek treatment for the same. But we cannot entirely blame the societal taint for such figures. We must also know that there are 3,800 psychiatrists, 898 clinical psychologists, 850 psychiatric social workers and 1,500 psychiatric nurses nationwide, according to a reply by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the Lok Sabha in December 2015. This means there were three psychiatrists per million people, according to data from WHO, 18 times fewer than the commonwealth norm of 5.6 psychiatrists per 100,000 people.

Hence, it is not only crucial for the society to understand the importance of mental health but it is equally important for education institutions and media to educate people and the Government to make more investments in order to build a better infrastructure for the same in India. 

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