Against the backdrop of over 300 million people affected by depression, the WHO’s announcement that Covid-19 had halted 93% of mental health service across the world is alarming. Covid-19 has exacerbated issues of mental health, but has also mainstreamed discussions about it. Many countries are now considering mental health as a serious concern. Stress-related to lockdowns has increased awareness. So, the plan of Mental Health Foundation of India, as per the Indian Express, to launch a mental health portal is indeed commendable. Starting October 10, the World Mental Health Day, the portal, MiHope, can be used for booking consultations with doctors at AIIMS. The portal will also promote lifestyle interventions such as the right diet, yoga, etc, to overcome stress-related disorders.
This initiative is indeed laudable, but the government needs to look at the larger picture on mental health in the country. Mental health issues have often been the subject of stigma in society, and the government hasn’t been able to do much to address this. Even though suicides have been rising, the government spending on mental health has remained negligible. Recent data released by the National Crime Records Bureau showed that over 1.39 lakh people committed suicide in 2019; this was a 3% increase from last year. Sixty-seven per cent of all suicides were accounted for by those aged 18-45 and mental illness was a cause for suicide for 6,491 or 7% of the total suicide committed by youngsters.
In the recent Budget, the allocation for the National Mental Health Programme was a mere Rs 40 crore. What is worse, against a similar-sized allocation in FY20, revised estimates show that the government gave only Rs 5 crore to the programme. The government, thus, needs to invest far more heavily, both in expanding the scope of the programme and raising awareness-at present, with India’s health budget at just about 2% of the GDP, there is little scope to increase the funding for mental health; at under 0.1% the year the Mental Healthcare Bill was passed, central funds for mental health were lower than Bangladesh’s 0.44%.