Mental health: UK gets ‘minister for loneliness,’ India needs one too, believe experts

Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and 260 million are living with anxiety disorders. Mental health should be of utmost importance as it affects the holistic well-being of the individual and the societies in a larger perspective

Mental health: UK gets ‘minister for loneliness,’ India needs one too, believe experts
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  • The National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16 shows urban metros are witnessing a growing burden of mental health problems.
  • Depression is said to affect 350 million people in communities across the world and represents the third leading contributor to the global disease burden. WHO study shows in 2015 over five crore Indians suffered from depression.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its new global health estimates said suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29-year-olds.
  • Terming suicide as a major bio-psycho-social issue, WHO study said India is now heading towards becoming the global capital for suicide as more than 1,00,000 deaths occur in India by suicide.

Today, with constant cases of loneliness and many other psychological illnesses in the world today, we are fighting the menace of handling them better.

This month has indeed been about being ‘happy’! In a one-of-its kind initiative, United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May has followed the recommendations made by the Jo Cox Commission in 2017 and formed a ‘Ministry of Loneliness’. This will be the first ministry in the world which is specifically set up to address this issue.

Tracy Crouch, the current sport minister shall be heading this ministry.  Reportedly, a research carried out in the UK in 2017 found that around 200,000 elderly people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative for over a month. And up to 85% of young disabled adults feel lonely.

We at My Medical Mantra try to look at how important will such a ministry be in India. Dr Om Prakash, Associate Professor, institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), New Delhi said, “Loneliness is a syndrome that is very commonly witnessed in India. This move by the UK is wonderful and applaudable. I hope we also have such a ministry in India.”

He added, “The problem with us here is that we don’t address loneliness as an issue. A lot of senior citizens suffer from loneliness silently. 4 out of 5 patients I saw today were lonely. But unfortunately, no one walks to a clinic saying loneliness is their illness.”

Stigmatisation of the issue is still a reality say other experts. “With the nuclear families becoming the only choice today, loneliness is every household’s problem.  To add to this, there is a rise in the number of people staying alone in the metropolitan cities like those who come here for studies or are single parents. According to me, such a ministry will be helpful. But it will take at least 10 years more to become a reality in India,” said Dr Sagar Karia, Secretary of Bombay Psychiatric Society, Mumbai.

While others say sensitisation is the key. Dr Anjali Chhabria, a well-known psychiatrist and Founder of Mind-temple said, “Accepting loneliness is still far away, people are not even accepting depression. The biggest problem of our city will be loneliness because even when two people are sitting across each other, there is no connect; majorly because they are busy with their mobile phones. Children, senior citizens are the worst hit clan. I think we should now fight the stigma of mental health so that other problems can be addressed well.”

A collaborative stress survey that was conducted by the Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare and No Worry No Tension Healthcare. 2,463 individuals from across the country like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Mohali, Ludhiana, Bangalore, Chennai and Jaipur.

The findings of the survey suggested significant levels of stress being experienced by individuals, attributed to their own personality traits as well as limited coping resources being available to them.