New Delhi: Self-reporting of mental disorders was considerably lower than the actual disease burden in India, stated a survey. The survey, published in International Journal of Mental Health Systems last year, highlighted that India still suffers with mental health stigma. Dr Ravi Kumar C P, Consultant – Paediatric Neurology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore, shared that mental illness has been stigmatised for centuries across different countries and communities. It is not exclusive to India or any particular gender. However, there is a strong stigma attached to it, which makes it difficult for people to express their thoughts and feelings.
“Even if they do express it, they fear that the recipient may not keep it confidential or may discriminate against them. This kind of stigma poses a significant challenge for teenagers who fear bullying, name-calling, or discrimination from their peers. Similarly, professionals fear losing their jobs due to the negativity associated with mental illness. All of this makes it difficult for them to come out and seek help,” he added.
Reasons behind low self-reporting
Dr Valli Kiran, Consultant Psychiatrist, SPARSH Hospital, Bangalore, said, “The issue of low self-reporting in psychological disorders persists due to several factors, primarily stemming from a lack of awareness and the enduring stigma surrounding mental health.”
Despite recent improvements in overall awareness, particularly among urban youth, specific knowledge about different psychological disorders remains limited for many individuals. Often, patients may not recognise their symptoms as indicative of a psychological disorder until they seek medical consultation and are referred to a psychiatrist.
The enduring stigma surrounding mental health further complicates matters. While it has diminished, particularly among younger demographics, it remains a significant barrier across age groups. Many individuals may be open to seeking counseling but are hesitant to pursue medical treatment, fearing potential side effects or addiction to psychiatric medications. Additionally, there’s a reluctance to acknowledge the severity of their condition, which can further deter them from seeking appropriate help.
Misdiagnosis burdens healthcare system
The implications of low self-reporting on the healthcare system are profound. Firstly, many affected individuals do not seek medical attention at all, leaving their conditions untreated. Secondly, those who do seek medical help often present symptoms in other departments, such as cardiology or neurology, due to the physical manifestations of anxiety and depression.
Dr Kiran said, “This not only adds strain to these departments but also delays the proper diagnosis and treatment of psychological disorders. In essence, the underreporting of psychological disorders contributes to a higher disease burden within society and strains various aspects of the healthcare system.”
Ways to overcome this burden
Dr Ravi added, “The discrimination associated with mental health issues and the obstacles standing in the way, like exorbitant insurance expenses, need to be tackled. The government should step in and recognize mental health illnesses as medical conditions.”
Additionally, the authorities should help people cover their insurance costs and offer assistance to those who are struggling with mental illness. These reforms are critical and should be implemented immediately to ensure that individuals receive the required support.