New Delhi: “A right to be protected from any kind of harm to mental health is important,” said Dr Pratima Murthy, Director and Senior Professor of Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) on World Mental Health Day special. This year the theme is “Mental health is a universal human right”. In an exclusive interview with the team of NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team, Dr Murthy talked about the burden of mental health in India, dealing with various kinds of mental issues and the government programmes and schemes to support people in need.
Dr Murthy said,
There is no health without mental health. Therefore, we need to understand that mental health does not just mean the absence of mental illness or disorder. Just like good physical health, we must talk about good mental health.
Nearly 200 million people had mental disorders in India, according to The Lancet report published in 2019. Sharing the ‘alarming’ burden of mental illness, Dr Murthy said,
About 15 percent of the global disease burden is due to mental illness. In India, somewhere between one in seven and one in 10 people have some kind of diagnosable mental disorder. The most common mental disorders are depression and anxiety. Serious mental disorders include schizophrenia, psychosis, and bipolar mood disorders, which although the prevalence might be lower, is associated with a lot of disability. We also know that people with severe mental illness are likely to die 10 to 15 years earlier as compared to the normal population. For every person who has a diagnosable mental disorder, there are six to seven people who have various kinds of psychological distress and are recognised. During COVID, globally, as well as in our country, there’s been a huge increase in mental health problems, and therefore it’s important to take it seriously.
Rising Instances Of Death By Suicide Among Teenagers And Youngsters
Talking about the rise in deaths by suicide among students and youngsters, Dr Murthy said, “Among teenagers, suicides sometimes can be very impulsive. Although there may be several underlying factors and impulsivity might just represent the tip of the iceberg. Feelings of stress, self-doubt, anxiety, low self-esteem, feeling low in mood, and disappointment in academics or relationships, can all push teenagers to the brink. Academic and financial pressures and family conflicts too play an important role.”
Dr Murthy said that we don’t recognise depression in teenagers, and sometimes that depression can manifest as loneliness, irritability, children throwing tantrums, being disobedient and aggressive.
Factors contributing to the risk of suicide among teenagers:
- Family history
- Exposure to violence early in life
- A high degree of impulsivity
- Difficulty in managing emotions
- Access to easy methods of harming oneself
- Exposure to extreme degrees of bullying
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
Dr Murthy recommends recognising cries for help and looking out for warning signs and symptoms including:
- Children being withdrawn and detached from others
- Not eating well
- Not sleeping well
- Substance use
- Frequent bodily complaints
- A decline in academic performance and extracurricular activities
- Talking about not wanting to live
“It’s important not to allow people to get to this point where alternatives don’t seem to appear”, said Dr Murthy.
Easing The Mental Pressure On Students
The health expert believes that students tend to go through tremendous pressure, particularly before examinations, and feel helpless and negative. For the same, she suggests:
- Do not let examinations be the end all and be all of your life. Ensure you have prepared for it; not just the last-minute prep but work on it continuously.
- Remember to get adequate sleep, eat well, and work towards comforting yourself so as to write your examination in a calmer state of mind.
- Remember, the result of the examination is not a complete indication of your ability.
- Break down your tasks into smaller parts so that they don’t appear insurmountable.
- Prioritise your tasks and practise time management.
Parents often tend to put academic pressure on children which can lead to stress from a young age. To address this, Dr Murthy suggests,
Parents ought to realise and accept neuro-divergence, that all fingers of the hand are not exactly the same. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your child and how to support them. Very often parents put their own expectations of what they wanted to do and couldn’t achieve on children. Please don’t do that; instead, nurture the child and stimulate the child in all ways. And, of course, do not compare.
Further talking about keeping students away from mental diseases, Dr Murthy recommends:
- Improve resilience – this includes learning to regulate our emotions so that we don’t feel overly angry, overly upset over every little thing that comes in our way and the ability to handle stress
- Good sleep, diet and exercise are the three pillars of physical and mental health
- Connect with people, form social relationships and get support
- Figure out simple breathing strategies that might help you reduce your anxiety. Maybe practise yoga or some other form of mindfulness
- Avoid excessive caffeine and substances, which are likely to be addictive
- Develop a hobby
Importantly, learn to recognise the symptoms of mental disorder – be it depression, anxiety, or any other kind of illness because help is available, said Dr Murthy.
Disassociating Stigma From Mental Health
Discussions around mental health and illnesses are often associated with stigma. One may say they have a headache or chest pain but saying, ‘I’m feeling anxious’ is difficult, said Dr Murthy. Therefore, talking more about psychological distress becomes pivotal.
“Secondly, the thought that we have to be 100 percent in control of our mind, all the time, is a myth. Thirdly, seeking professional help isn’t a sign of weakness,” said Dr Murthy.
However, to be able to seek help, it is essential to know where and how to access mental health services. Dr Murthy said added,
Help is available; there are medicines, physical treatments, psychotherapies and counseling which can help you reduce the time of suffering. Professional services invariably are confidential.
Government Programmes On Mental Health
The Government of India launched the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in 1982 to ensure the availability and accessibility of minimum mental healthcare for all in the foreseeable future; to encourage the application of mental health knowledge in general healthcare and in social development; and to promote community participation in the mental health service development. India also has Mental Health Care Act 2017 which according to Dr Murthy is “very comprehensive” and “progressive”. She added,
Mental Health Care Act adopts a human rights approach. It is a right-based and person-centered act that tries to make access to mental health care the right of every individual. It also supports people with severe mental illness so that they can make treatment decisions by themselves.
Dr Murthy explained that the National Mental Health Programme is decentralised to the districts with over 730 districts having a district mental health program, which tries to improve the identification and care for people with mental disorders.
“In some states, the programme has moved beyond the districts and has reached talukas and primary health care centers. Ayushman Bharat Health and Wellness Centers too have a component of mental healthcare. Also, yoga is like a universal approach to improving one’s mental health,” said Dr Murthy.
Though the programmes are in place, the number of mental health professionals available are far below what would be the most desirable ratios, as per Dr Murthy. To bridge this, one of the suggested strategies is to ensure that every health provider has basic training in mental health care so as to provide mental health support and identify people with mental disorders.
Through NIMHANS Digital Academy, we’re not just training professionals but volunteers, who are willing to provide mental health care and support so that we can create a complete network. Also, using digital methods and the tele MANAS, we’ve been able to digitally connect with the most underserved areas.
The Tele MANAS program, initiated on World Mental Health Day 2022, is a comprehensive mental health care service by the Government of India. Toll-free helpline numbers: 14416 or 1-800-891-4416 with multi-language provision allows callers to select the language of their choice for availing counsellor services. By calling on either of the toll-free numbers, an individual can speak to a trained counselor.
We have had more than three lakh call us to the tele MANAS and discuss problems ranging from sleep disturbances, feeling low and anxious, worries about academic performance, interpersonal relationships, and of course, other behavioral problems, substance use. It has given people an opportunity to talk and being aware and talking about your problems is the first step.
Dr Murthy reiterated the fact that help is available. An individual needs to take the first step of reaching out and will find various doors open to assist.
At any point in life, one shouldn’t feel they’re up against a wall.
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information. NDTV does not claim responsibility for this information.
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