Depressed India

November 16, 2021 0 By CH Unnikrishnan

One of the biggest challenges India is going to face post Covid is a heavy burden of mental health cases, unless the country prepares itself with the necessary resources, infrastructure and trained manpower for the required intervention.

Rajamanikyam Gangadharan, a tannery supervisor at Vaniyambadi in TamilNadu, was the sole breadwinner for his five-member family. His family, comprising his 73 year-old bedridden mother, homemaker wife and two school going children, was doing well with their little comforts and happiness. However, the COVID-19 lockdown of last year put an abrupt end to his children’s school joys and his wife Muniyamma’s fun-filled shopping experience at the village market. Things took a turn for the worse this year when Gangadharan started feeling extremely anxious and started behaving strangely after exhausting his meagre savings, the consequence of a year-long spell of unemployment. Not very different was the story of Usman Janaludeen, a school bus driver at Idgah Hills in Bhopal who was cut off from his routines and the society in general due to COVID-19. Struggling to meet his three-member family’s daily needs, a depressed Janaluddheen became moody and restless and is currently at a rehabilitation centre. Gangadharan and Janaluddeen are part of India’s rapidly growing population diagnosed with one or other common mental disorders triggered by social disadvantages and psychosocial adversities.  

The pandemic may be on its way out with the virus becoming endemic, but India, yet to find its way out of the woods, is staring at another major challenge in the form of  the highest mental health burden in the world. 

Almost one third of India’s mental health cases have been newly diagnosed. Key to the sudden rise in the numbers is a 30% increase in depression and anxiety cases, caused mainly by two contributing factors: daily exposure to news of spiralling cases of Covid-19 infections and deaths and the financial adversities and restricted mobility caused by the lockdown.    

According to a 2017 WHO estimate, about 7.5% of Indians were suffering from some or other mental disorders. The numbers showed that about 56 million Indians suffered from depression and another 38 million had anxiety disorders. However, the latest estimate by the UN health agency shows that India’s burden of mental health disorders would go up to 20% of its population by the end of 2021. In other words, by the end of this year, roughly one fifth of the Indian population will suffer from mental illnesses. 

It was in 2018 that WHO data ranked India as the most depressed country in the world, followed by China and the USA. As per the report, China and the US were most affected by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The same report, which featured a survey conducted for National Care Of Medical Health (NCMH), showed that at least 6.5% of the Indian population suffered from some form of serious mental disorder, excluding common afflictions such as depression and anxiety. The report, which found no discernible rural-urban differences, also revealed that though there were effective measures and treatments still available, there was an extreme shortage of mental health workers like psychologists, psychiatrists, and doctors in the county. 

Dr. Sapna Bangar, a Specialist Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and the head of mental health service provider Mpower-The Centre, says India is going through a silent mental health crisis. 

“For every million people, there are only 3 psychiatrists, and even fewer psychologists. Add to this a global pandemic and the impact that it has had on the mental health of individuals across all age groups and social strata, it is not hard to understand how we are facing a storm that seems almost too difficult to navigate,” she added.