New Delhi, Oct 10: Mental and emotional health problems have reached pandemic levels. Today, perhaps 75 per cent of Indians are suffering from stress, anxiety and depression. India has the highest rate of suicide per million population. Student suicide is on the rise. Verbal and physical domestic abuse of women continue unabated. The long school closure has created severe emotional distress and learning loss among children. Our youth population, which is supposed to give us a huge demographic dividend, is the most affected. It is now medically established that Mental Health problems give rise serious physical health issues like cardio-vascular diseases and diabetes in addition to neurological problems.
Relationship issues arising from poor emotional health is reflecting in rising divorce rates. Rage and anger related issues result in serious crime like murder and rape. On the other hand, India has one of the lowest number of psychologists and psychiatrists per million population. Sadly enough excepting a few lone voices, this pandemic is totally out of both public and state consciousness.
Collectively, we feel mental health should be a priority for stakeholders across the spectrum, below are a few ideas to turn the tide:
Role of the state
The government has a huge role to play in providing mental health care support. First, it must significantly increase the capacity of high quality psychology and psychiatry education. If there can be an IIT or IIM in every state, why can’t there be a NIMHANS (National Institute Of Mental Health and Neurosciences) in every state?
Second, is awareness. Mental health suffers from a huge stigma. Just like the persistent and determined awareness creation of family planning (which had the same stigma in India) has resulted in widespread practice of family planning, a joint effort by the government and our excellent communications talent should start a long-term, well-funded awareness program.
Third, mental health treatment should be brought on par with physical health care. Today, mental health therapy attracts 18 per cent GST while physical healthcare GST rate is zero. This anomaly must be corrected.
Fourth, the IRDA must ensure that all insurance companies offer comprehensive coverage of mental health care. Even after a Supreme Court ruling to do so, most insurance companies treat mental health as an add on, often non-medicinal therapy and treatment is not covered.
Fifth, every government hospital must have a psychiatry treatment department of sufficient capacity and high quality. Last but not the least, Mental Health treatment effort needs to be undertaken with the same systemic and zealous effort like Aadhaar, Digital Payments, Swachh Bharat
Role of schools and parents
Barring a few enlightened schools and colleges, educational institutions do not pay sufficient attention or investment in emotional and mental health of students. Though applicable all the time, educators need to focus on helping returning students to cope with the emotional baggage they have collected during the past 18 months. Children and adolescents who have untreated emotional health problems almost always become adults with behavioural and emotional disorders. Children are our future. Educators must ensure that our future generation must grow up to both emotionally and physically healthy.
Role of employers
As a result of the pandemic, there is a remarkable increase in awareness among Human Resources about the importance of employee emotional health. However, in our experience this awareness has not spread to the business leaders or the Boards. Emotional health programmes are underfunded and often unstructured and sporadic. As a result, we see an increase in disengaged employees with lower productivity and higher attrition rates. Finally an unhappy and distressed organisation results in poor business results. Global studies have shown that for every $1 invested in Emotional Health results in an ROI of 4-5X. The business leaders and Boards should view Emotional Health not as an expenditure but as an investment with a high return.
(Roma Kumar and Amit Bose — co-founders, Emotionally, one of India’s leading emotional health experts)