The biggest problem in India, even in Mumbai, is the stigmatisation of those seeking mental health. “The stigma about mental health may have come down to some extent in the last few years, but there is still enough of negativity associated with psychiatry to stop people from seeking help,” said Dr Bharat Shah from Lilavati Hospital, Bandra. Patients with depression or suicidal ideation need long-term help, but many drop out.
“After every celebrity suicide, there is an effort to create awareness about mental health or the need to seek help, but the efforts haven’t been able to reduce the stigma associated with reaching out to a psychiatrist,” said Dr Nilesh Shah, who heads the psychiatry department of Sion Hospital.
The problem begins with the number of psychiatrists in the country: only 4,000 for India’s 100-crore population. “While getting a psychiatrist or a good counsellor may not be an issue in the tony areas of Mumbai, it is a problem elsewhere in the country,” said psychiatrist Dr Bharat Shah from Lilavati Hospital.
Moreover, people who do seek help rarely complete their treatment.
The most important message, said Dr Pathare, is that suicides are preventable. “With interventions from the government at a policy level, society or even at an individual level, suicide prevention is possible.” In Tamil Nadu, ever since the government started allowing supplementary exams within a month of results for students who failed SSC exams, suicide rate among students dropped 50% over a five-year period.
Dr Nilesh Shah said: “Every year, 20 lakh students appear for SSC exams, and 20% of them fail, but only a handful of the candidates attempt to take their own lives. These are ones with a mental illness.” The need, he added, is to find them, reach out to them empathetically and provide them with medicines and counselling.