Mental health risks a glaring issue for India

One of the world’s leading experts on public health systems has called for the establishment of a new state-supported health agency in India to address what he terms is a “glaring issue” for the country.

Vikram Patel is Pershing Square professor of global health in the Blavatnik Institute’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also an adjunct professor and joint director of the Centre for Chronic Conditions and Injuries at the Public Health Foundation of India.

According to professor Patel, Covid-19 has created a conversation around mental health in India and although there is a definite change in attitudes towards the subject, there is no equivalent of the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for example.

“We need a public health agency which is inter-sectoral,” he said. “Different ministries need to be involved for this. This is a glaring issue in our country.”

Across the world, the pandemic has created has created similar risk factors for mental health problems, Patel noted.

“For example, economic uncertainty – for young people, the uncertainty about jobs and education. In the US, there is data coming from the CDC showing a dramatic increase in the prevalence rates of mood, anxiety and trauma-related mental health issue.” Young people were affected significantly too, he added.

Tailor-based approach with the resources available and democratisation of healthcare are the way ahead, he said.

“It is important for us to not wait for the data from India. We already had a huge problem before the problem. Now is the time to deliver on mental health across the country.”

There is a need to train frontline workers on the foundation skills on mental health issues through digital media, he said.

Professor Patel’s comments comes as the emerging risks of mental health are starting to become more widely appreciated by the risk community.

Indeed, mental health and misinformation may be two risks that are currently being widely underestimated, in much the same way that pandemics and infectious diseases were only considered the eighth-most-important emerging risk last year, according to Axa.

The observation was made as part of this year’s ‘Axa Future Risks Report’ which sees pandemics and infectious diseases become the number one emerging risk.

The report surveyed over 2,700 risk experts from 54 countries.

According to Axa, “although pandemics and infectious diseases were only considered the eighth-most-important emerging risk last year, we flagged it as an under-the-radar threat that had the potential to cause significant disruption”.