WHO says: We are heading into a 'mad and sad world'

Meditation, Yoga, and other indigenous practices have cultural acceptability in India, which can be used in the treatment of mental health problems Photograph:( WION )

Delhi, India Mar 15, 2017, 08.58 AM (IST) Khurshid Alam



Mental health illness and its management is a major challenge in contemporary India. In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that the global population will soon be living in a “mad and sad World”. WHO's scary deduction has been that half of the world’s population by 2021 will suffer from one or the other types of mental health problems. 


Depression and anxiety disorders are two of the most common mental health problems in the world today, says WHO in its global health estimate report (2017) on Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders. The numbers are terrifying with 322 million people living with depression and 264 million suffering from anxiety disorder. Each of these categories of patients includes 4.4 per cent and 3.6 per cent of the world’s population respectively. 


The extent of mental health problems is particularly grave in the lower income countries of South-East Asia and Western Pacific region. Evidently, in India, issues such as poverty and unemployment, have further accelerated mental health issues. On top of these, there are other stressful life events, such as the death of loved one, relationship breakup, physical illness, loss of interest, failure, feeling of guilt, low self-esteem, loss of sleep, feeling of loneliness, intolerance, maladjustment and fanaticism.


Death often results from mental illness, with patients committing suicide. In the year 2015 alone, nearly 7,88,000 people committed suicide worldwide. It does not need mentioning that the actual number of people who attempted suicide is much larger than the number who perished from it.  


Globally speaking, suicide constitutes the top 20 leading causes of death. The suicide rate in India and often stems from social and economic causes. For instance, thousands of farmers committed suicide in the last 2 years due to debt that they could not repay. Dowry and drug addiction are two other debilitating issues. Also, the situation has become grave as mental health issues receive the least priority in the Center as well as in the state's health planning.  


As a nation, we are oblivious of the menace posed by mental diseases to the well-being of the Indian citizen. To fight the rising threat, India requires numerous trained psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, counsellors, trained health workers, and social workers as well as volunteers.  


The crisis we have in hand are multi-faceted in nature. There is obviously the need to reach out to a large number of people, using audio-visual media, however, the pitfall is, there is always the risk of being too eager to analyse the clinical condition and the causes leading to it. Unfortunately, the general tendency is to put a label on every aspect of human behaviour. It is also questionable whether the public perception of a mental patient is modified by the didactic approach of the television programmes and documentary films on the illness.  Moreover, popular cinema, in India and abroad, has been known to depict mentally-ill people and clinical psychologists in a negative light. 


Prejudices against seeking mental treatment are too rampant in India. Indians are known to be hesitant in approaching clinical psychologists for help. One reason for this is, there is the social stigma attached to being a mentally ill patient. But there is also the most ubiquitous fear of being subjected to electric shocks as a form treatment in the hospitals. High expenses of consulting a clinical psychologist is also a discouraging factor. Common people in India, particularly, in the villages, therefore, approach vaidya, hakeem as well as religious faith healers like tantriks, maulvis and even naturopaths. 

Instead, people should try meditation and yoga. These practices can be learnt very inexpensively and help one and all to maintain both physical fitness as well as mental peace. 

In conclusion, it can be said that India desperately needs specialised hospitals and also psychiatrist units in general hospitals. The latter measure will be instrumental in bringing psychiatry from close-wards of mental hospitals to the mainstream medical practice. Another major thrust is required on teaching health psychology or specifically health education at schools. A step towards improvement will definitely be taken if we start to “Think Globally, Collaborate Regionally And Act Locally”.  The success of a nation like India depends on the general happiness and well being of the people.

Khurshid Alam

Khurshid Alam is professor of Psychology at Zakir Husain Delhi College, Delhi. He is the president of The Association of Clinical Psychologist, India.