What’s in your head
NEW DELHI: There is a disturbing statistic emerging in India, in which Tamil Nadu occupies a dubious distinction, right on top. The State has one of the highest rates of suicides in the country. As per a report from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2022, as many as 46 people died from suicide every day in Tamil Nadu, about 18,925 people annually. Of these, more than two victims every day were students. A little over 1.64 lakh Indians committed suicide in 2021. The national suicide rate was estimated to be 12 per 1 lakh of the population, which is the highest rate since 1967. The nation’s contribution to the global suicide deaths between 1990 to 2016 has also increased from 25.3% to 36.6% — among women and 18.7% to 24% —among men.
In the backdrop of World Suicide Prevention Day, which was observed recently, it makes sense to look at the progress made in the field of mental health awareness, and mitigation of self-destructive tendencies among the youth, which still has miles to go. For instance, as per the Mental Health Atlas released by the WHO in 2014, there wasn’t a single low income country that reported having a national suicide prevention strategy, compared to 10% of middle income nations that had some initiatives, and about 30% of upper middle and high income nations that had a cohesive national strategy to deal with such conditions.
The negligent attitude towards mental health issues and suicidal tendencies is laid bare in developing nations where there are no economic safety nets like social security and citizens are compelled to fend for themselves. Here in India, a resource crunched nation, with a poor track record of equitable distribution of income, the divide between the haves and have nots is widening by the day.
A few weeks ago, a student in Tamil Nadu killed herself in the aftermath of the announcement of the NEET result, while another attempted suicide on the same grounds. The State government seems to have taken cognisance of this issue and has implemented a slew of measures. For one, the TN Minister for school education Anbil Mahesh Poyyamozhi has said that as many as 800 doctors will be appointed, two each in 413 educational blocks in the State, to offer students guidance and counselling, on various aspects of life including studies and behaviour.
The Centre has also made budgetary allocations towards mental health in the Union Budget this year. A sum of Rs 670 crore has been set aside for mental health, which is a small part of the Rs 83,000 crore budget earmarked for the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, more specifically 0.8%, similar to the previous years. This is despite mental health taking a severe hit in the COVID years. Even in the pre-pandemic years, as per the National Mental Health Survey of 2016, 70-80% of people suffering from mental illness received no treatment at all.
The government’s funding towards the District Mental Health Programme has also remained at a meagre Rs 83 lakh for as many as 704 districts across India for many years now. A National Tele-Mental Health Programme is also in the works, under which 23 centres are to be launched.
The onus of creating a society that does not look down on those afflicted by mental health ailments falls upon us. The presence of a strong social support system, coupled with frank discussions on the nature of psychological ailments, sans the taboos associated with them is essential to bring such concerns to the mainstream.