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  • India’s Hidden Mental Health Crisis: Survey Exposes Stigma, Gender Bias, and the High Cost of Silence

    Published on May 8, 2024

     MUMBAI : A recent survey by UnFix Your Feelings, a private mental health practice, reveals a troubling reality within India’s mental health landscape. Young adults, particularly women, grapple with a complex web of interconnected barriers that prevent them from seeking the support they need. Stigma, rooted in a lack of awareness and restrictive societal norms, fuels a deep misunderstanding of therapy’s value. This, compounded by the prohibitive cost of mental healthcare, silences those who desperately need it.

    Sharing her thoughts on the survey, Aanandita Vaghani, Founder at UnFix Your Feelings, said, “India is grappling with a severe mental health crisis, driven by stigma and silence. Statistics reveal that over 60 million Indians suffer from mental health disorders—a figure significantly underreported due to prevailing social stigmas. Our survey findings reinforce this, showing that 83% of Indians cite societal expectations as a barrier to mental health support, with 35% viewing the act of seeking support as a sign of weakness.” She further added, “This situation leads not only to social isolation and discrimination but also severely impedes necessary interventions. As a nation, it’s imperative that we overcome these challenges, destigmatize mental health care to make therapy accessible to those who most deserve it.” The survey targeted towards the adult population, was conducted in order to understand the mental health challenges prevalent in India and how the population perceives its impacts  on people.

    Stigma as The Foundation of the Problem: The survey highlights a critical need for increased awareness, with 65% of respondents believing limited understanding is the primary driver of mental health stigma. This lack of awareness intersects with harmful societal norms around emotional expression that is cited by a staggering 83%, creating a particularly challenging landscape for different genders seeking help. The damaging belief that therapy signifies weakness held by 35% further discourages individuals from getting professional support.

    Therapy Undervalued, Cost a Major Obstacle: Participants reveal the tendency to underestimate what therapy can offer. Equating it with simply talking to a friend (59%) obscures the value of a therapist’s expertise and structured interventions. Similarly, 72% underestimate the severity of career-related mental health struggles and the role therapy can play in addressing them. This limited understanding, coupled with the overwhelming cost concern shared by 60% of respondents, effectively blocks access to essential mental healthcare.

    Stigma’s Consequences and the Path to Change: The weight of stigma and lack of access have devastating consequences. Over half fear mental illness hurts their job prospects (52%), the ability to marry (64%), and causes feelings of shame (56%). Societal judgment looms large, with 71% deeply worried about how they’ll be perceived. Still, 70% recognize that to break this cycle, we must acknowledge the widespread impact of mental illness.

    A Glimmer of Hope: While 62% view therapy as a last resort, they also see potential in supportive families (51%) as catalysts for seeking professional help. This underscores the importance of dismantling stigma within communities and underlines support as a motivational factor for help seeking behavior.

    Implications of the survey

    The survey’s findings highlight the urgent need for comprehensive measures to combat the stigma surrounding mental health in India. Reducing mental health stigma requires a multifold approach that involves various stakeholders, including policymakers. This can be done via educational and awareness campaigns to debunk myths about mental health, especially targeted at schools. Integrating mental health education into school curriculum could also help foster a culture of acceptance and understanding that can prevent stigma from developing at an early age. As well as this, policy makers need to consider how mental health insurance coverage can be expanded on and investments need to be made in community-based mental health programs. Developing guidelines for media professionals on responsible reporting of mental health issues to avoid perpetuating stereotypes and stigma about mental health is essential. Companies that invest in mental health can also allocate funding for research on effective stigma reduction strategies. Overall, this can improve accessibility to and quality of mental health in India.

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