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9 Reasons India Needs To Start Talking About Mental Health

70 million Indians suffer from mental illnesses, more than 2 lakh commit suicide per year, and these numbers are increasing rapidly.

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October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about the true and current state of mental health around the world. The goal is to garner attention and support to alleviate the plight of the millions of people around the world living in quiet suffering, with illnesses ranging from anxiety and depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, to name a few.

Here are some shocking facts about mental health in India, and why we need to start this conversation.

1. The Indian government estimates that 6-7% of the population suffer from major to minor mental health issues. That's approximately 70 million Indians. This number is increasing every year.

TAUSEEF MUSTAFA / Stringer / Getty Images. / Via Murray, CJL and Lopez, AD eds (1996), The Global Burden of Disease: A Comprehensive Assessment of Mortality and Disability from Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors in 1990 Projected to 2020

Pictured above: Kashmiri mental health patients peer out from behind the bars of a mental hospital in Srinagar.

2. According to some estimates, a fifth of Indian adolescents have emotional, learning, or developmental issues, while an eighth have serious mental health issues.

CHANDAN KHANNA / Stringer / Getty Images / Via Cambridge, MA, Harvard School of Public Health on behalf of the World Health Organisation and World Bank (Global Burden of Disease and Injury Series Vol 1)

Mental illness rates are highest in the age-group of 15 to 44.

3. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that by the year 2020, 20% of India's population will suffer from mental health issues.

Uriel Sinai / Stringer / Getty Images / Via WHO (2001a) 'Atlas: Country Profiles on Mental Health Resources 2001', World Health Organisation, Geneva

Pictured above: Family members surround the sick bed of a farmer after he attempted suicide by swallowing insecticide in Yavatmal, Maharashtra.

4. Only 1-2% of the Indian health budget is allotted to mental health, despite mental illness accounting for over 15% of health disorders.

MANAN VATSYAYANA / Stringer / Getty Images / Via WHO (2001c) 'The World Health Report 2001. Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope ', Geneva

Pictured above: A mentally challenged youth holds a placard during a protest outside the Indian Health Ministry in New Delhi.

As of today, October 10 2014, the Indian government has finally instated a policy that has provisions for more mental health institutions and professionals.

5. Due to stigmas and misinformation, people in need of help are rarely able to access it. Additionally, despite the huge number of people who require mental health attention, India only has 3,500 trained psychiatrists and even fewer psychologists.

NARINDER NANU / Stringer / Getty Images

Pictured above: Indian prisoners being treated for shock and trauma wait for a medical check-up during their daily routine at a mental hospital in Amritsar.

6. India accounts for more suicides than any other country in the world. In fact, India accounts for one third of all total global suicides.

AFP / Stringer

Pictured above: Relatives react as the four bodies of family members are taken to a crematorium in Bavla, Gujurat – the four committed suicide by drinking poison, apparently under pressure from money lenders.

7. Suicide is considered a criminal act under the Indian Penal Code. This, combined with rampant stigma, means many suicide attempts go unreported, and suicidal individuals fear seeking treatment.

SEBASTIAN D'SOUZA / Stringer / Getty Images

Pictured above: Four daughters of a late Indian cotton farmer pose with his picture as they mourn his death on the outskirts of Nagpur, after he committed suicide by consuming pesticide.

Update: Reports state that since August 2014, the government has begun the process of dicriminalising attempted suicide.

8. Despite receiving most media attention, farmer and student suicides are far more rare than suicides caused by poverty and a lack of access to treatment.

AFP / Stringer

Pictured above: Widows of Indian farmers take part in a candlelight vigil on Marine Drive in Mumbai, 02 October 2007, in memory of their husbands.

9. While most mental health issues are treatable, widespread stigma against mental illness means Indians who need help often get neither diagnosed nor treated.

SAM PANTHAKY / Stringer / Getty Images

Pictured above: A physically challenged man holds a placard during a rally in Ahmedabad, to spread awareness about physical, mental, and sensory disabilities.

The good news is that just by having read this article, you're better informed than most people about the state of mental health in India. Spreading awareness is our first responsibility – join and continue the conversation in whatever ways you can.

For more information on being proactive about mental health in India, reach out to Dr. Sahar Bhaloo, who contributed research and writing to this post. Contact her via email at dr.saharbhaloo@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter here.

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