Improving Mental Health

By Syed Mujtaba

THERE can be no health without mental health, despite this clear evidence nowhere in the world does mental health enjoy parity with physical health in budgets, policies and practice. According to the World Health Organisation, Mental Health Atlas, globally it is estimated that less than 7 percent of health budgets is allocated to address mental health. Persons with mental illnesses constitute a vulnerable section of society and families bear financial hardship, emotional  and social burden of providing treatment and care for their relatives with mental illnesses.

WHO defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides a legally binding framework for the right to the highest attainable standard of mental health. The same is complemented by International legal standards by the Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities, the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of Children.

Magnitude of the Problem             

Even prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, the world was not equipped to respond to mental health needs of the population. In 2020, WHO stated that the critical mental health services had been disrupted, fully halted in 93% of countries world wide.  Globally, close to one billion individuals are living with a mental disorder. Despite these numbers, many do not have access to mental health care services. As per one research, it has been estimated that 76-85% of those living with a mental disorder in low and middle income countries do not receive estimated 12 billion productive days are lost each year due to depression and anxiety, which results in about US 1 trillion economy loss per year in productivity.

Mental health in Kashmir

According to Mental health experts, there has been an increase in the number of stress, PTSD,depression related cases in the valley and these psychological problems have also given rise to general health problems like hypertension, cardiac arrests etc. The survey of 2015 revealed that around 1.8 million adults in Kashmir valley have significant symptoms of mental distress, nearly 1.6 million adults in the valley are living with significant symptoms of depression, with 415,000 meeting all the diagnostic criteria for severe depression. Approximately, 1 Million adults in the valley are living with significant symptoms of anxiety related disorders. The survey also revealed high rates of co-morbidity in the kashmiri adult population, with nearly 90 percent of individuals identified as a probable case for PTSD. The evidence suggests that the prevalent conflict has a powerful effect on the mental health of people in the valley. So there is a need to burden the evidence in conflict zones to examine all psychosocial dimensions of mental health.

Furthermore, due to the outbreak of COVID-19 crores of people have been pushed to the confinement of their houses across the world, but in kashmir the ongoing unrest since decades and now the present pandemic, has impacted the mental health of Kashmiris irrespective of gender and age group. Various surveys have revealed that mental illnesses are on rise due to Covid-19 situation in Kashmir.

In 2013, the WHO comprehensive Mental Health Action plan recognised mental health as a global health priority. The right to mental health requires that mental health care be integrated into all levels of general health care and services, professionally and practically. And the same has been incorporated in the New Legislation Mental Health care Act 2017. Despite having the legislation and schemes for mental health care, there is need to make provisions for more number of psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health institutions. There is a need to increase budget and increase investment in community based mental health initiatives. The effective realization of the right to mental health requires participation, non-discrimination, accountability and availability, accessibility, acceptability quality of mental health care and services.

One of the most progressive approaches to improve mental health is the cross sectional integration of mental health promotion and treatment. Finances spent on mental health are seen as costs but there is a need to move fast and invest more in mental health programmes during the pandemic and beyond. There is a need for a greater push to advance the prevention and care of mental illness and promotion of mental health and it is time for us to assert vigorously that health care, inclusive of mental health treatment, is indeed a Human Right.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own responsibility and are not a substitute for medical advice. 

  • The author is Working as a Child Rights Lawyer with specialisation in Mental Health Rights

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