Thought Starter

India’s Mental Health Crisis

India has a few thousand therapists for crores of people who require mental health therapy. At the same time, therapeutic sessions are often very expensive, making them unaffordable and out of reach for the majority of people. We look at India’s mental health crisis, the reason behind the high cost of therapy, the inaccessibility, and the solutions.

In late 2019, Vatsala decided to seek therapy. She was jobless, stressed, and was having anxiety. But Lucknow had very few options - this is when her uncle recommended her a psychiatrist in Gurgaon - over 550 km away.

“I even started working but something was amiss. That’s when I decided to see a psychiatrist. I was really hopeful because it took me a year to convince myself and my parents that I needed professional help. But the cost per session was 2,500 to 3,000 - that was the minimum”.

India’s Mental Health Crisis - Why Is It Unaffordable?

Vatsala not just agreed to see that particular therapist but also made the effort to travel to Delhi, at least twice a month to seek therapy. These two sessions, medications, and the travel expense cost her at least 10,000 per month - something that most Indians may not spend on mental health.

“Even the medication that the doctor recommended was not available in Lucknow. And finally, the lockdown happened. Nothing was accessible at all, especially in my hometown. I even relapsed in the middle, but I wasn’t comfortable seeking therapy over call and ultimately I stopped all my sessions - and that’s not the best decision I made”

Vatsala isn’t the only one. Many youngsters who made up their minds about seeking therapy are eventually dropping out, due to the high cost and inaccessibility.

Jatin Garg had a similar problem. He wanted a psychologist but to find the right therapist for yourself in a small city like Dehradun is nothing less than a miracle.

“I went on Google and found one therapist with good credentials. He was charging 2500 per session - something that I couldn’t afford back in the days. I could only have one session a month but that wasn’t really worth it because there used to be so much gap between the two sessions.

Jatin’s struggle didn’t end there. He looked for another therapist and this time the therapist was away in Canada.

“He was charging me the same amount of money that he was charging in Canada. It came down to 3,000 per session which again was very expensive. I just took one session from him before dropping out”

The stories of Vatsala and Jatin point towards a major problem. The mental healthcare system in India is basically facing two issues.

Lack of affordability

Lack of accessibility.

Had both Vatsala and Jatin found the right, affordable experts in their respective cities - they wouldn’t have to spend so much money on therapy. In fact, these two are just one of the millions who need therapy. According to WHO, 7.5% or 90 million Indians suffer from some sort of mental disorder that requires expert intervention. 

This startling figure is even more worrisome when we look at the number of therapists available. Several reports highlight that there are just 9000 psychiatrists in India and the number of clinical psychologists is even lesser.


How, in that case, are we going to solve this crisis?

“You can get affordable mental care if you know where to look” says Snigdha Ghosh, a  consulting psychologist from Mumbai. Snigdha currently works for Dainik Bhaskar’s CSR project, providing free counseling to people, especially teenagers.

“It comes to 300-500 per session, which is not unaffordable. Other than that, there are many NGOs, organizations that provide counseling for free of cost. Just google “affordable therapist near me’’ and you shall find the right one”.

And Snigdha is right. Take Mumbai-based Manah Wellness for example. The company provides affordable sessions at the cost of Rs. 499 per hour. It’s not just inexpensive but extremely accessible as one can access it virtually from anywhere. 

Rincy Varghese, who is working as a psychologist at Manah Wellness explains: “We are preventive-healthcare setup. We offer help before the person reaches the extreme stage of burnout. Our affordable sessions start from Rs.500 per hour, and anyone can seek help from our team of professionals”.

But Tarun Adnani, CEO of One More Light has a unique approach to solve this crisis. His team has created a mobile application that allows people to connect anonymously with trained listeners for free emotional support. 

Not just this, people are also being trained to become listeners so that they are able to lend support to those who need it.

“There aren’t enough people to cater to the needs of people who need help. For us, the idea was to take a community-based approach where we can mobilize people like you and me to develop skills to deliver psychological-behavior interventions ourselves” Tarun explains.

This application not just allows people to overcome the stigma but also addresses the treatment gap.  

While options like Manah Wellness and One More Light deserve applause, one cannot deny that NGOs or local and small organizations can never be a substitute for a well-planned and efficient mental healthcare system. And that’s where we need the government to step in.


Credits:

Research, Anchor, Writer, and Producer: Gaurav Mehta

Editor: Mushtaq Shah

Graphics - Amarjeet Singh, Gaurav Mehta

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