Villagers Armed With Smartphones Can Help Stem the Rising Rate of Suicides in India

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

India has among the highest rates of depression in the world. If Deepika Padukone, a leading Bollywood actress, hadn’t talked publicly about her battle with depression, you probably wouldn’t know.

And the stigma attached to mental illnesses is hurting India. Few are brave to speak about it to someone and fewer still get treated. The result is that, for every 100,000 Indians between 15 and 29 years old, 36 commit suicide annually—the highest rate among the youth in the world.

Worse still, according to Vikram Patel, professor of mental health at the London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine and one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2015, without urgent improvement in treating mental disorders, suicides will soon becomethe leading cause of death among the young.

Show me the money

The Indian government has, thankfully, woken up to the problem. In October 2014, it released a mental health policy with a call to increase spending. Currently, according to the World Health Organisation, India spends a paltry 0.06% of its already small health budget.

With only one psychiatrist for more than 300,000 Indians—by comparison, England has as many as 59 psychiatrists for a similar population—and fewer psychologists still, there are huge holes to fill before we can start seeing results. But leaders in the field argue that mere increase in funding won’t help. What needs to change is the approach to solving an urgent problem.

India needs to invest in building the infrastructure—more doctors, more hospitals—that can be used to treat mental illnesses. But such development, especially when it involves increase in skilled human resource, has a long lead time before effects can be seen.

There, however, may be a quicker alternative to get results. The George Institute for Global Health has come up with an idea that they believe will immediately improve primary mental healthcare in rural India.

Source: Quartz (link opens in a new window)

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