“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversations.”
– Glenn Close (Founder, Bring Change to Mind)
Young people below the age of 25 constitute around 50% of India’s population. On the occasion of National Youth Day, 2022, let us take a look at their mental health.
Mental illnesses are common in India.
- A 2017 Lancet study estimated that about 197·3 million people, comprising 14·3% of India’s population suffer from mental disorders.1
- The National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) of 2016 estimated that close to 9.8 million Indian teenagers required active mental healthcare intervention.
- NMHS 2016 also revealed that 83% of people with mental health problems do not receive any treatment in India. This is called ‘treatment gap’.
- The treatment gap for any suicidal risk behaviour is above 80%.2
However, in India we respond to these facts by maintaining a deliberate, cultivated, and stoic silence. In order to start making progress from these alarming statistics, it is important that we destigmatise mental health. Since 2017, MHFA India has been actively working to normalise mental health by educating the working professionals of the country through the Mental Health First Aider course. The programme instils a holistic and nuanced understanding of mental health among Indian corporates as well as the public at large. The MHFA courses also help reduce negative attitudes in learners and encourage supportive behaviours toward people with mental health problems. This is why MHFA courses have been recommended and adopted as part of public health action in many countries the world over.
In 2022, MHFA India is all set to launch the Blended Mental Health First Aid for Educational Institutions. The course is specially formulated and designed to help students identify, address, and cope with mental ill-health. The course also teaches students about providing support to friends and peers who may be experiencing mental distress.
For adolescents and young adults, life is often in a state of flux, because they undergo rapid phases of mental and physical growth and personality development. They also endure the stresses associated with higher education, uncertainties about the future, and parental and societal pressures. These factors push young people to a place of high vulnerability, including mental and neurological disorders.3
Mental illnesses often start in 7.3% of adolescents and manifest a lasting impact, if left unaddressed. A World Health Organization (WHO) study states that at least 20 % of young people are likely to experience some form of mental illness such as depression, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidal behaviours, especially in developing countries. Research by WHO also reveals that failing to address adolescent mental health issues leads to the worsening of the issues and subsequently extending to adulthood, impairing physical and mental health lifelong. 4
This is where MHFA India looks to make a difference. The globally acclaimed, evidence-based MHFA course equips its learners to be resilient, preventing them from going down the slippery slope of untreated mental disorders. Studies show that MHFA programmes for students increase not only college students’ knowledge regarding mental health, but also their confidence to support people with mental health problems.
As examined, we have ample scientific evidence that demand the urgent attention of our policy makers to make good quality mental healthcare available for all, including our youth.
“Young people are often encouraged to keep silent. In India, we encourage a culture of silence,” says Daniel Benjamin, Consultant Psychologist and Student Counsellor, Chennai. That is a powerful statement! In order to address our country’s reluctance in addressing mental health issues and accepting services, we will have to start inculcating mental health positivity in our youth.
“Ensuring the health of young people and secure societies is imperative. That will require that everyone makes an effort, including policymakers, institutions, and individuals caring for young people,” says Erinda Shah, Founder and MD, MHFA India.
It is time we prioritised speaking out and normalising mental health for everyone, especially our youth. “Young people of the country have a right to the best quality health, including mental health,” Ms. Shah reiterates. “We owe our youth the best of knowledge, right-based support structures, and access to adequate mental healthcare facilities. Not only because it is medically urgent, but also because it is morally important!”
- Sagar R, Dandona R, Gururaj G, et al. The burden of mental disorders across the states of India: the Global Burden of Disease Study (1990–2017). The Lancet Psychiatry, February, 2020.
- Pradeep BS, Gururaj G, Varghese M, et al. National Mental Health Survey of India, 2016 - Rationale, Design and Methods. The International Journal of Social Psychiatry, June, 2020
- Strengthening Mental Health Promotion External Icon. Fact sheet no. 220. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.
Sunitha S, Gururaj G. Health Behaviours & Problems Among Young People in India: Cause for Concern and Call for Action. Indian J Med Res. 2014;140(2):185-208.