A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that 7.5% of the Indian population suffers from some form of mental health problem. Mental illness constitutes one sixth of all health related disorders and India is accounted for nearly 15% of the global mental, neurological and substance abuse disorder burden. For such a huge number of patients the help available is very less. (Approximately to 1000 patients per doctor.)
WHAT CREATES THIS GAP?
- Stigma: Stigma is surely one of the many hurdles that the field of psychology has been battling with. Just imagine if people would talk about mental health in the same way they talk about physical health. But they don’t because it was never considered important. The discovery of a mental illness is often followed by denial and hesitation and at the end of the day it is swept under the carpet and the person struggles in silence.
- Limited access to professional help: With the limited access and over-priced therapy, the gap gets widened. We as torch bearers of this field should focus on reducing this gap and providing our services to the needy free of cost or at a minimal cost.
- Lack of awareness: The lack of awareness and proper knowledge leads to many people becoming self-proclaimed Counsellors and therapists. We as a society need to understand that giving friendly advices to people is not Counselling. It takes almost 7 years of study to become a licensed practitioner in India. You cannot become a therapist/ psychotherapist/ psychologist/ psychiatrist/ counsellor just by reading and learning something online or by attending few workshops.
- Limited or very few trained and experienced professionals: One of the most significant challenges in bridging this gap is the glaring shortage of trained mental health professionals in the systems. To practice as a professional, legal and licensed psychologist in India, one needs minimum 7 years of education and hard work which obviously needs a lot of money too. Alongside the number of seats in universities and colleges is a matter of grave concern.
In spite of many challenges, the authorities are trying very hard to eradicate the underlying issues and bring the topic of mental health on the table. Four major priority areas are identified for focused attention to diminish the mental health treatment gap and to improve access to high-quality services: diminishing stigma, building mental health system-treatment and research capacity, implementing prevention programs to decrease the incidence of mental disorders, and establishing sustainable scale up of public health systems to improve access to mental health treatment. Alongside many laws are being made and passed to help end the stigma.
Just as charity begins at home, awareness begins at home too. Look out for signs of change in behavior or in the daily routine of the person. If the changed pattern persists and seems problematic contact for help immediately. Become more aware of your surroundings.
HOW TO IDENTIFY A LEGAL AND GOOD PRACTITIONER?
Before booking an appointment run a small research on the internet. Look out for doctors who are well qualified and skilled in their work. Look for reviews and ratings on their profile. For example- A clinical psychologist need to have a RCI license in order to practice legally anywhere in India. A psychiatrist needs to have a MD degree or diploma in psychiatry. A counsellor must have a minimum of M.A. psychology degree. Apart from degrees and licenses, skills are also very important part of this job. Some of the skills you should be looking for in your mental health advisor are-
- Analytical mind
- Good listener
- Good rapport formation
- Lot of patience
Along with this the person must always adhere to the ethics and guidelines of the job profile which also includes keeping the clients information private. If after several visits your problem is unresolved or you are not satisfied with your advisor, change immediately.
UPSURGE IN THE FIELD
In the last 6-7 years there is a sudden hike in the number of students and the number of courses and opportunities that are opening in psychology. As many students are now interested and are taking up psychology as a long term plan for themselves, the various fields are also opening up. Encouragement and right kind of information and guidance is needed so that more and more people take up psychology as a career option and help reduce the gap in the first place. Changes are happening maybe at a slower rate, but they are. Things have started changing and people are slowly and steadily talking and showing support in this concern. Many organizations, NGO’s, voluntarily help. Different groups are coming forward and helping individuals to deal with their current problems. It gives a sense of relief and satisfaction to know that someone is out there to listen to us and help us without judging.
Even with awareness, mental health is complex. Without awareness the situation can go completely out of hand. The need of the hour is to open up, speak, sensitize and educate individuals about the signs and symptoms of mental illness while normalizing the idea of seeking support in public. It is important that everyone gets involved at their own level and help each other. We must all learn to identify the red flags of mental health in ourselves and others and seek help immediately. Together we can and we will fight it.
What mental health needs is more sunlight and unashamed conversations.