Embrace openness, and leverage technology to solve mental health problems

The conversation around mental wellness is opening up in India. A nation of 1.4 billion people and the world’s fifth-largest economy requires not only intense discussion on this erstwhile taboo subject but also requires vivid action to take care of the mental health of its huge population. One of the primary factors for urgent action is that decades of negligence and the COVID pandemic have aggravated this problem into gigantic proportions.

A 2017 study to estimate the burden of mental health conditions for the states across India revealed that around twenty crore people are required to care for mental health conditions. This included about 4.57 crore people with depressive disorders and 5 crore people with anxiety disorders. Undoubtedly, the Covid pandemic has exacerbated the situation with women, young people, and disadvantaged communities beingmuch worse hit. Additionally, World Health Organisation (WHO) study showed that India didn’t have even one psychiatrist per lakh of people.

Sanjeev Dahiwadkar, Founder & CEO of Cognota Healthcare
Sanjeev Dahiwadkar,
Founder & CEO of Cognota Healthcare

Launch of Tele-MANAS timely:

To resolve the growing health problem, the Indian government announced the National Tele Mental Health Programme (NTMHP) in the 2022-23 budget. Under this initiative, the central government last week launched the Tele-MANAS (Tele Mental Health Assistance and Networking Across States) initiative to provide round-the-clock tele-mental health services in the country on the occasion of World Mental Health Day.  People across the length and breadth of the country can now access round-the-clock mental health services on a toll-free number – 14416. This launch is especially going to help citizens in rural areas where access to mental health treatment is rare.

While the government and private healthcare providers are working closely to solve mental health problems, there needs to be concerted action by all stakeholders to tackle this growing problem. This can only be achieved through increasing awareness and early identification.

Early identification:

Most mental health problems in people manifest atayoung age. Typically, by the time youngsters reach 25, these problems show up in some way or another. The teenageyears are considered the worst time for mental health, given that students struggle with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and many more such issues. A recent NCERT survey showed that 81 percent of students face stressowing to studies, examinations, and results. Ironically, the problem is more acute in urban areas where young minds must constantly deal with parental and peer pressures.Similarly, women are found to be more prone to mental health issues because of societal discrimination. Though things are changing for the better, much space is there for improvement. Therefore, it is essential to diagnosemental health problems early making make interventions.

Spreading awareness: 

In a country with a per capita income of $2,000, it is not entirely surprising to see less awareness about mental well-being. Given the stigma attached to various mental health issues, India as a society has never been comfortable discussing such problems. However, things are changing for the better now. With the rising penetration of the internet and social media, these issues are now openly discussed and debated. In collaboration with non-government organizations, many government agencies partnership have been taking various measures to spread awareness. These issues should be part of the school curriculum to improve the knowledge and practices associated with mental health. Teaching young minds about the cause and symptoms will save many precious lives. It is a known fact that a healthy childhood is essential for mental well-being in grown-up years. Apart from students, the most vulnerable sections should be imparted knowledge on these aspects through grassroots-levelorganizations like Women SHGs (self-help groups).

Wellness of workers:

According to WHO, 15percent of working-age adults live with some form of mental disorder. The economic loss from such disorder is pegged at a whopping $1 trillion globally. India, with its vast working-class population, is part of this more significant trend. Hearteningly, the COVID pandemic has increased awareness about employee well-being among enterprises. Corporates are currently running various wellness programs, including consultation with doctors, anddeveloping community feeling through various engagement initiatives. Flexible working, work-life balance, and support networks, among others, are being actively promoted by corporates now.

Technology plays a crucial role: Technology acts as a great enabler to make good mental health a reality. The recently launched telemental platform is a case in point. Technology can be leveraged in all aspects of mental wellness. Technology applications can be used to achieve the objective, be it information dissemination, awareness creation, or treating a mentally ill patient from the safety of home. India has seen tremendous success in universal immunizationprograms, COVID detection, and vaccination program through technology usage. And there is no reason to believe that the country can’t replicate it for addressing mental health problems. Last but not the least, a huge country like India needs all stakeholders- be it government or private organizations or startups- to work in tandem to solve this issue. Together, we need urgent action to ensure the mental well-being of our citizens.

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