13.7% Indians are mentally ill, study says

mentalA countrywide National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (Nimhans) study has revealed a shocking prevalence of mental illness in India. At least 13.7 per cent of India’s general population has been projected to be suffering from a variety of mental illnesses; and 10.6 per cent of this requires immediate intervention.

In all, nearly 150 million Indians are in a need of active medical intervention, according to the study, submitted by Nimhans to the Union ministry of health and family welfare.

India was one of the first countries to develop a national mental health programme in the early 1980s, but there was no proper study to understand the spread and estimate of mental illness in the state.

The prevalence of mental morbidity was found to be very high in the Indian urban centres with higher prevalence of schizophrenia, mood disorders and neurotic- or stress-related disorders.

Researchers have attributed the disturbing scenario to fast-paced lifestyles, stress, complexities of loving, breakdown of support systems and challenges of economic instability.

One of the biggest concerns emerging from the study is that despite three out of four persons experiencing severe mental disorders, huge treatment gaps exist.

Apart from epilepsy, the treatment gap for all mental health disorders is more than sixty per cent. In fact, the economic burden of mental disorders is so huge that affected families had to spend nearly Rs.1,000-1,500 a month mainly for treatment and to access care.

Due to the stigma attached with mental disorders, nearly 80 per cent of people suffering from mental disorders had not received any treatment despite being afflicted by the illness for over 12 months.

Almost 1 in 20 suffer from depression and it is reported to be higher in females in the age-group of 40-49 years. High rates of depression are also reported in the elderly (3.5 per cent).

22.4 per cent of the population above 18 years suffer from substance use disorder. The highest was contributed by tobacco and alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use was higher in males (9 per cent) as against women (0.5 per cent).

Nearly one per cent of the population reported high suicidal tendencies. The prevalence is more in the age group of 40-49, especially among females and those residing in the urban metros.

Nearly 1.9 per cent of the population are affected by severe mental disorders that included schizophrenia, other non-affective psychosis and bipolar affected disorders. These are detected more among males and those residing in urban and metro areas.

While prevalence of mental illness is higher among males (13.9 per cent) as compared to females (7.5 per cent), certain specific mental illnesses like mood disorders (depression, neurotic disorders, phobic anxiety disorders etc) are more in females. Neurosis and stress related illness is also seen to be more in women.

Prevalence in teenagers from the age group between 13 and 17 years is 7.3 per cent. The most common prevalent problems are depression, agoraphobia (characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives the environment to be unsafe with no easy way to get away), intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, phobic anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorder.