Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, said at Agra today that the country’s mental illness burden has grown to such proportions that the government has decided to frame the first ever official national policy on mental health. After a visit to the 155-year-old Institute of Mental Health and Hospital, Agra, today, the Minister said he was moved by the tragedy that fills the lives of mental patients.“There has been considerable progress in treatment methods for mental patients and their recovery rates have improved. Unfortunately, society still stigmatises those who suffer from routine psychiatric problems and so their treatment is either delayed or denied. We need to build up a social movement to change mindsets and focus on the human dimension of mental illnesses,” he said.
As one of the significant steps in this direction, the Minister announced that October 10 would henceforth be observed throughout the country as National Mental Health Day.Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “It will be a day for raising people’s awareness on mental illnesses and removing the false perceptions attached to them. We want a nation that upholds the human rights of mental patients. Also, it will be an occasion to generate awareness against stigmatisation of people with mental illnesses and highlight the symptoms and remedial opportunities for those with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar syndrome, etc.”
World Health Organisation has predicted that about 20 percent of India’s population would suffer from some form of mental illness by 2020. The country has only about 3,500 psychiatrists. Therefore, the government is confronted with the problem of lowering this gap significantly over the next decade. The Minister also announced that a National Mental Health Policy is being developed. It will involve the country’s best experts in the field and cover the full range of complex issues linked to this branch of medicine. He also indicated that some more institutions replicating National Institute for Mental Health and Neurological Sciences, Bangalore, are being considered. In this connection he mentioned that the Centre had granted Rs 28.8 crore to upgrade the infrastructure of the Agra hospital and expand the teaching facilities.
Under the Manpower Development Scheme, more students are now admitted in all branches of mental health education: psychiatry, psychiatric nursing, psychiatric social work and clinical psychology. The wards have been refurbished and several new technological aids have been purchased. He assured Dr Sudhir Kumar, the Director, of continued support for the expansion of the institution.Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “I have already taken the first reformative steps. The Universal Health Assurance Mission (UHAM) which is under development will not ignore mental illnesses. The New National Health Policy, which will come about in consultation with the states, will also have a focus on mental health. Universal Health Insurance, which will be a component of UHAM, will also cover those who need treatment for common problems.” After a tour of the hospital accompanied by the Director and other senior faculty, Dr Harsh Vardhan admitted that mental health services in India is a neglected area which needs immediate attention from the government, policymakers, and civil society organisations. Despite the existence of a National Mental Health Programme since 1982 there has been a very little effort so far to provide mental health services, particularly in rural areas, he said.
Earlier, Dr Harsh Vardhan visited the Agra district hospital. He was received there by the Chief Medical Superintendant, Dr Anurag Raghuvanshi. He went around the wards and out patient departments and interacted with patients and attendant doctors. This hospital is visited by 2,000 people each day. He appreciated the cleanliness levels maintained by the hospital’s authorities.The Minister went to the Agra Medical College, one of the oldest in the country. He announced a scheme to upgrade it into an AIIMS-like super-speciality hospital for which Rs 200 crore shall be made available, of which Rs 170 crore will be provided by the Centre and the rest by the state government. Dr Ajay Agarwal, Principal, Mr Manish Asija, Uttar Pradesh MLA, Dr Himmat Singh, CMOH of the district, and Dr Satya Mitra, Additional Director, Department of Health, Uttar Pradesh Government, accompanied him.
Dr Harsh Vardhan asked the college authorities to develop a cleanliness protocol for the campus. “I request you to give ‘shram daan’ for a few days so that this historic facility gets a neat and clean look,” he said. The National Jalma Institute for Lepeosy and Other Mycobaterial Diseases which is under the Indian Council of Medical Research. He inspected its state of art BSL-3 laboratories, the DNA chip laboratory, the Proteomics laboratory, the attached hospital and interacted with the doctors, scientists and patients. “The institute has earned international repute for research in all important aspects of leprosy and mycobaterial studies. It is participating in and coordinating the work of several multi-centric studies in leprosy and TB”, Dr Harsh Vardhan added.