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Opinion

India needs better mental health care systems – editorials

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Bollywood Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide in Mumbai on Sunday. Her tragic death has sparked a much-needed conversation about mental health in India. According to the World Health Organization, more than 90 million Indians, or 7.5% of the population, suffer from mental health problems. A study published in The lancet in December 2019, entitled The Burden of Mental Disorders in Indian States: The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2017It also highlights the scale of the challenge. Mental health problems are among the leading causes of the burden of non-fatal disease in India; one in seven Indians was affected by mental health problems in 2017; the proportional contribution of mental health to the total burden of disease has almost doubled since 1990; and suicide was the main cause of death among young people, aged 15 to 39, in 2016.

India spends little on mental health care. In FY 2019, the budget allocated to the National Mental Health Program (NMHP) was reduced to Rs 40 million from Rs 50 million in FY 2018. The 2020 budget has not increased allocation for NMHP. When it comes to mental health care staff, India has 9,000 psychiatrists, or one doctor for every 100,000 people, when WHO standards say there should be three for every 100,000 people. While these structural and financial gaps must be addressed, it is important that society does not stigmatize victims and provide a community support structure so that they do not fight such problems alone. As the report on Rajput’s death demonstrated, the media, especially television, must be responsible, considerate and humane about how it covers deaths from mental health problems.

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