Why you may need a psychologist by 2030
On reading the title of this article, most of us are likely to say, ‘Not me, I won’t need a psychologist, I am perfectly fine. While it may be true for many of us, the real problem is that we view going to a psychologist as something that must be avoided at all cost. However, in this age of modern technology, hypoconnectivity and privacy-invading social media, going to a psychologist could be one of the best ways to keep ourselves mentally healthy.
In broad terms, a society is said to be flourishing when its people are not just physically and financially capable but also emotionally satisfied and mentally healthy. However, today many developed and developing countries are facing a mental health crisis. In fact, as per a report from the World Health Organization (WHO), depression will turn out to be the largest contributor to disease burden by 2030.
What is mental illness?
The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illnesses as health conditions that involve changes in emotion, thinking or behaviour. Mental illnesses may also be associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. Mental illness is a medical problem that needs as much attention as conditions like diabetes and heart diseases.
Mental illness can affect anyone and is not limited to any particular race, gender, caste, creed, occupation, or age. More often than not these mental illnesses surface during the adolescence stage and are often ignored by the sufferer and sometimes also by parents/guardians who blame it on teenage problems. Untreated, it can get worse as the sufferer who is now an adult is likely to have trouble adjusting to society in general.
Mental disorders can include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders including autism. While some mental disorders like depression can be prevented through effective strategies, some disorders like schizophrenia can be controlled through the use of medicines and psychological counselling.
India’s mental health crisis
Growing up, we were often told that ‘depression’ is something that only westerners suffered from. Also, we were told that we didn’t need to go to a psychologist or a counsellor because we had the wisdom of our grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts to rely on. Moreover, being a country where superstitions and beliefs in spirits still abound, often people with mental illness are believed to be possessed by evil spirits. Curing them of these spirits often involves barbaric practices. When you combine all these factors, talking about mental illness becomes something of a taboo. It becomes a problem that needs to be hidden or not acknowledged. This has worsened India’s mental health problems.
In 2015 a year-long study was conducted nationwide by India’s National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS) – an autonomous institution under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The study revealed that nearly 150 million Indians needed some form of active intervention when it came to their mental health. It also highlighted that from that number fewer than 30 million people were getting any kind of mental support and care. It was also observed that people living in urban areas and people from lower-income groups were more prone to mental disorders. The rate of suicide was greater among 40–49-year-olds and this rate was higher among females and people living in an urban area.
Statistics that need immediate attention
While globally, mental ailments will become one of the leading causes of disability in the near future, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Mental Health Research UK, shared some worrying statistics about mental health in India:
• 7.5 % of Indians suffer from some mental disorder
• Nearly 20% of Indians will likely suffer from mental illnesses in the near future
• 56 million Indians have depression
• 38 million Indians have anxiety disorders
With such grim numbers, one may assume that the Government may be doing its utmost best to help its citizens deal with such a mental health crisis. However, even though India is the world’s fifth-largest economy, the government has spent only 0.05 per cent of its health budget annually on mental health in the last few years. This number rounds up to an appalling 33 paisa per mental health sufferer for a whole year. The ideal number of psychiatrists and psychologists per 100,000 population is three and above, but, in our country, that number currently stands at 0.07. There is a grievous deficit of over 18,000 mental health practitioners.
How can we make talking about “mental health” normal?
While the onus of recognizing India’s need for better mental health facilities lies with her Government, we too can do our bit. We need to start by eliminating past biases that we might have about mental health. Understand that while there are many underlying conditions for mental illnesses, some acquire it due to conditions around them.
Given the current state of the pandemic, we are living in one of the most stressful times in recent human history. While some may be able to cope with the situation well enough, there are those who may slip into depression or get anxiety disorders. Please understand that it’s perfectly normal and it does not make them weak.
Do not discourage people seeking treatment that it’s a phase and will just pass away. Likewise, when you feel that you are not in the right mental frame of mind, seek out the help of a counsellor or a psychologist, even if it’s just for a single visit. Have frank conversations with your family and friends and make the topic of ‘mental health’ more approachable.
As per the World Health Organization, India is the most depressed country in the world. There are many reasons for this. Jobs are not secure, education is highly competitive, the disparity between the rich and poor, rising crime rates especially among women and minorities, breaking up of the traditional family system, lack of access to mental health and much more. These problems are not going to disappear overnight. Hence, the need of the hour is to make ‘mental health’ a mandatory topic of conversation in schools, colleges, workplace and homes. In fact, free counselling services should be available in every school, college and workplace. This will help scores of Indians in the right direction towards mental wellbeing.
When 2030 arrives, let going to a psychologist become as normal as going to the doctor for a flu shot.