The first ever National Mental Health Policy was launched by the Union Health Minister Harsha Vardhan on World Mental Health Day (October 10). The policy takes a fresh look at the health services being offered for mental illnesses, lays down the guidelines for mental health care, and recommends changes in the law that criminalizes suicide, now considered a major cause of death among people with a mental illness. A recent WHO report had said that India sees largest numbers of suicides globally and in the 15-29 years age group, it has the highest suicide rate.
The policy seeks to include mental treatment at primary health care at a time when India is estimated to have only about 3,500 psychiatrists and over 50 % of the mentally ill have no access to health care.
The Policy is backed up by the “Mental Health Action Plan 365”. It clearly spells out the specific roles to be played by the Central government, the state governments, local bodies and civil society organisations. He also released two booklets published by the Directorate General of Health Services: “A Training Module of Essential Psychiatry in General Practice” and “A Guide to Psychiatry in General Practice”.
The Policy’s objective is to provide universal access to mental health care by enhancing understanding of mental health and strengthening leadership in the mental health sector at all levels. It will have a pro-poor orientation because only the creamy layer of society presently has access to mental healthcare in India today.