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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2021  |  Volume : 63  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 315-316
Mental health in diverse India: Need for advocacy

Professor of Psychiatry, WBMES; Consultant Psychiatrist, AMRI Hospitals, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

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Date of Submission29-Jul-2021
Date of Acceptance29-Jul-2021
Date of Web Publication07-Aug-2021

How to cite this article:
Singh OP. Mental health in diverse India: Need for advocacy. Indian J Psychiatry 2021;63:315-6

How to cite this URL:
Singh OP. Mental health in diverse India: Need for advocacy. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Oct 22];63:315-6. Available from:

”Unity in diversity” - That is the theme of India which we are quite proud of. We have diversity in terms of geography – From the Himalayas to the deserts to the seas. Every region has its own distinct culture and food. There are so many varieties of dress and language. There is huge difference between the states in terms of development, attitude toward women, health infrastructure, child mortality, and other sociodemographic development indexes. There is now ample evidence that sociocultural factors influence mental health. Compton and Shim[1] have described in their model of gene environment interaction how public policies and social norms act on the distribution of opportunity leading to social inequality, exclusion, poor environment, discrimination, and unemployment. This in turn leads to reduced options, poor choices, and high-risk behavior. Combining genetic vulnerability and early brain insult with low access to health care leads to poor mental health, disease, and morbidity.

When we come to the field of mental health, we find huge differences between different states of India. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders was markedly different while it was 5.8 and 5.1 for Assam and Uttar Pradesh at the lower end of the spectrum, it was 13.9 and 14.1 for Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra at the higher end of the spectrum. There was also a huge difference between the rural areas and metros, particularly in terms of psychosis and bipolar disorders.[2] The difference was distinct not only in the prevalence but also in the type of psychiatric disorders. While the more developed southern states had higher prevalence of adult-onset disorders such as depression and anxiety, the less developed northern states had more of childhood onset disorders. This may be due to lead toxicity, nutritional status, and perinatal issues. Higher rates of depression and anxiety were found in females. Apart from the genetic and hormonal factors, increase was attributed to gender discrimination, violence, sexual abuse, and adverse sociocultural norms. Marriage was found to be a negative prognostic indicator contrary to the western norms.[3]

Cultural influences on the presentation of psychiatric disorders are apparent. Being in recessive position in the family is one of the strongest predictors of psychiatric illnesses and psychosomatic disorders. The presentation of depressive and anxiety disorders with more somatic symptoms results from inability to express due to unequal power equation in the family rather than the lack of expressions. Apart from culture bound syndromes, the role of cultural idioms of distress in manifestations of psychiatric symptoms is well acknowledged.

When we look into suicide data, suicide in lower socioeconomic strata (annual income <1 lakh) was 92,083, in annual income group of 1–5 lakhs, it was 41,197, and in higher income group, it was 4726. Among those who committed suicide, 67% were young adults, 34% had family problems, 23.4% of suicides occurred in daily laborers, 10.1% in unemployed persons, and 7.4% in farmers.[4]

While there are huge regional differences in mental health issues, the challenges in mental health in India remain stigma reduction, conducting research on efficacy of early intervention, reaching the unreached, gender sensitive services, making quality mental healthcare accessible and available, suicide prevention, reduction of substance abuse, implementing insurance for mental health and reducing out-of-pocket expense, and finally, improving care for homeless mentally ill. All these require sustained advocacy aimed at promoting rights of mentally ill persons and reducing stigma and discriminations. It consists of various actions aimed at changing the attitudinal barriers in achieving positive mental health outcomes in the general population.

   Psychiatrists as Mental Health Advocates Top

There is a debate whether psychiatrists who are overburdened with clinical care could or should be involved in the advocacy activities which require skills in other areas, and sometimes, they find themselves at the receiving end of mental health advocates. We must be involved and pathways should be to build technical evidence for mapping out the problem, cost-effective interventions, and their efficacy.

Advocacy can be done at institutional level, organizational level, and individual level. There has been huge work done in this regard at institution level. Important research work done in this regard includes the National Mental Health Survey, National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India, Global Burden of Diseases in Indian States, and Trajectory of Brain Development. Other activities include improving the infrastructure of mental hospitals, telepsychiatry services, provision of free drugs, providing training to increase the number of service providers. Similarly, at organizational level, the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) has filed a case for lacunae in Mental Health-care Act, 2017. Another case filed by the IPS lead to change of name of the film from “Mental Hai Kya” to “Judgemental Hai Kya.” In LGBT issue, the IPS statement was quoted in the final judgement on the decriminalization of homosexuality. The IPS has also started helplines at different levels and media interactions. The Indian Journal of Psychiatry has also come out with editorials highlighting the need of care of marginalized population such as migrant laborers and persons with dementia. At an individual level, we can be involved in ensuring quality treatment, respecting dignity and rights of the patient, sensitization of staff, working with patients and caregivers to plan services, and being involved locally in media and public awareness activities.

The recent experience of Brazil is an eye opener where suicide reduction resulted from direct cash transfer pointing at the role of economic decision in suicide.[5] In India where economic inequality is increasing, male-to-female ratio is abysmal in some states (877 in Haryana to 1034 in Kerala), our actions should be sensitive to this regional variation. When the enemy is economic inequality, our weapon is research highlighting the role of these factors on mental health.

   References Top

Compton MT, Shim RS. The social determinants of mental health. Focus 2015;13:419-25.  Back to cited text no. 1
Gururaj G, Varghese M, Benegal V, Rao GN, Pathak K, Singh LK, et al. National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16: Prevalence, Patterns and Outcomes. Bengaluru: National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, NIMHANS Publication No. 129; 2016.  Back to cited text no. 2
Sagar R, Dandona R, Gururaj G, Dhaliwal RS, Singh A, Ferrari A, et al. The burden of mental disorders across the states of India: The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2017. Lancet Psychiatry 2020;7:148-61.  Back to cited text no. 3
National Crime Records Bureau, 2019. Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India; 2019. Available from: [Last accessed on 2021 Jun 24].  Back to cited text no. 4
Machado DB, Rasella D, dos Santos DN. Impact of income inequality and other social determinants on suicide rate in Brazil. PLoS One 2015;10:e0124934.  Back to cited text no. 5

Correspondence Address:
Om Prakash Singh
Department of Psychiatry, WBMES, Kolkata, West Bengal; AMRI Hospitals, Kolkata, West Bengal
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/indianjpsychiatry.indianjpsychiatry_635_21

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