Union Budget 2021 Expectations for mental healthcare: The problem has been multi-faceted and deep rooted, and one of the main areas that has so far been grossly overlooked is the access to mental healthcare.
By Shumita Kakkar,
Union Budget 2021-22 Expectations for mental healthcare: One of the key initiatives announced by the Hon’ble Prime Minister has been the approval of the National Health Policy, 2017 which aimed at making high quality healthcare services available to all Indians at affordable prices. However, the access to holistic and quality care is still a dream for Indians in most parts of the country. The problem has been multi-faceted and deep rooted, and one of the main areas that has so far been grossly overlooked is the access to mental healthcare. It is time for the government to move forward with reforms by focusing on allocation of budget for mental healthcare as a part of the upcoming Union Budget.
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The first and foremost area to be addressed is to allocate budget for building facilities for training of mental health professionals and graduates. There is a tremendous shortage of qualified psychiatrists in the country. The average availability of psychiatrists in India is 0.75 per 100,000 people and depending upon the state that the person is in, the average varies from 0.05 per 100,000 people in Madhya Pradesh to 1.2 per 100,000 in the state of Kerala. The ratio is further skewed as majority of the existing psychiatrists are concentrated in the Tier 1 cities resulting in almost no access to mental healthcare for populations in the other cities or rural areas all over the country. Comparatively, the ratio in western countries is as high as up to 6 psychiatrists per 100,000 people and the global recommended average is 3 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. Considering that the current facilities in India see only 700 new psychiatry-graduate annually, we are falling short by almost 2000 psychiatrists a year to even maintain the current average in the country. Hence, there is an urgent and huge need to create the training and education facilities for the mental health professionals. To further boost the numbers and coverage, there is a need to allocate funds in the upcoming budget. This will help in training the existing professionals in areas related to mental healthcare and to spread awareness among their patients. Digital consultation platforms can become a revolution in this domain. They can not only supplement the lack of professionals but also ensure that consultations are done anonymously as per the need of those suffering from mental health issues.
Another transformational step that the government needs to take is to implement a formal national mental health policy. Most of the mental health treatments and consultations continue to be outside the ambit of insurance as well as universal health coverage schemes such as the Ayushman Bharat. Thus, such treatment proves to be costly and most of the general public especially in the rural areas is not able to access it.
There is also a need to allocate funding support to digital mental health consultation startups as they have been working towards making these affordable and accessible to people all over the country. Smartphone and internet connectivity have already reached even the remotest parts of India.In such a scenario, technology driven mental health services are going to be of great utility in the years ahead. The government can collaborate with such private sector service providers to improve the condition. By making the mental health consultations a part of the universal health coverage, a system can be created where the government will pay the costs of consultations instead of the patients. This will reduce the burden on the people facing such issues and make them more confident of seeking care for their conditions.
Further, budgetary provisions also need to be made for mental health awareness campaigns on digital as well as conventional platforms. Majority of the people suffering from problems such as stress, depression and other mental health challenges suppress their condition because they are either misunderstood or ridiculed for the same. There is an urgent need for the government to associate with the stakeholders and service providers to launch consistent and comprehensive mental health awareness campaigns across the country.
Thus, by adopting the right approach and making adequate financial provisions in the upcoming budget, the government can transform the situation and make India a physically and mentally healthy nation!
(The author is Founder, United We Care. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)