Fans, colleagues, and members of India’s film fraternity recently observed the second death anniversary of the popular Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. A promising young man, whose star was on the rise, he committed suicide on June 14, 2020 for reasons that remain unknown — throwing the film world and the media into a state of shock. Two years on, there remain several unanswered questions — what circumstances caused the actor to take the extreme step, the possibility of foul play and potential drug abuse. And, the CBI is yet to file a chargesheet in the case.
However, the one fact that has emerged from the long-drawn out investigation was that his suicide — in all likelihood — was fuelled by depression. Earlier this week, the suicide of a popular designer from Hyderabad shocked the elite circles of the city, as none seemed to be aware of the extent to which she had been impacted by depression.
According to a WHO study, India carries the dubious distinction of being the “most depressed country in the world”, followed closely by China. One may argue that the sheer population of these two countries will automatically push them to the top of the list but here are some startling data points which reveal the extent of the problem. In India, it’s the younger population that is intensely affected by depression. Statistics show that Indians below the age of 45 have been categorised among the groups that are most vulnerable vis-a-vis resorting to suicide. As per a recently released UNICEF’s ‘State of the World’s Children (SOWC)’ report, approximately 14 per cent of Indian youth who fall in the age group of 15-25 reported experiencing some form of depression or the other.
And while the UNICEF survey also indicated that over 80 percent of the youth surveyed were open to sharing their experiences with others, this brought into focus another concern, and that is the acute shortage of mental health workers. A study undertaken a few years ago said that mental health professionals which include psychologists and psychiatrists are in short supply, the ratio estimated to be as low as 1:100,000. Other countries that feature on the ‘depressed’ list include the United States, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan. In some of the countries listed, trained mental health professionals are less than a thousand in number.
The health of a nation needs to extend to the mental well-being of all citizens as well. The budget on mental health remains a tiny percentage of the total budgetary allocation for the country’s medical needs, while the annual loss of human capital as a result of mental health conditions is currently pegged at billions of dollars. Globally, the loss is estimated to be $340.2 billion of which anxiety disorders account for 26.93 per cent; behavioural disorders 22.63 per cent; and depression 21.87 per cent, as per the report.
Depression is a mental disorder that needs to be acknowledged — in terms of cost of lives and the quality of life. It is said that mental agony might be hard to comprehend and quantify. However, any attempt to conceal it only increases the burden. It is time to spread the message to those who are suffering and tell them that they are not alone.