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How our political discourse stigmatises mental health

Stigmatization of mental illness, becomes a major barrier for people with mental health problems to seek professional help, as they fear being labelled and bullied.

March 31, 2019 / 02:16 PM IST
World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10. While awareness of mental health is gradually improving, there are certain misconceptions and myths related to the subject. A website called HealthPartners debunks some of most common myths. (Representative image)

World Mental Health Day is observed on October 10. While awareness of mental health is gradually improving, there are certain misconceptions and myths related to the subject. A website called HealthPartners debunks some of most common myths. (Representative image)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, earlier this month, took a covert jibe at Congress President Rahul Gandhi with a reference to dyslexia and dyslexic children. In February, Gandhi had attacked the prime minister, wondering if latter was suffering from schizophrenia.

Then, it was Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Karnataka parliamentarian Anant Kumar Hegde who reportedly called Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is an extreme mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Dyslexia is a learning disorder.

There is an unhindered flow of words and references to mental health while mocking political rivals.

A senior journalist and a television anchor in Andhra Pradesh called evangelist politician KA Paul as having a bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a manic-depressive illness. Paul's political outfit Praja Shanthi Party (PSP) is contesting the elections in the state.

Dementia and Alzheimer's, often tied together with mental health, are also frequently used to describe opponents.

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Mental health stigma

The 2019 Lok Sabha election has once again brought to the fore, the lack of awareness or sheer insensitivity towards mental health problems in our political discourse.

The stigmatization of mental illness, becomes a major barrier for people with mental health problems to seek professional help, as they fear being labelled and bullied.

Worse, many live in denial of the possibility of mental illness ever occurring to them.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that around 20 percent of Indians may suffer from depression, of which according the National Mental Health Survey in India (2015-16), only about 10-12 percent get treated.

WHO estimates that the burden of mental health problems is to the tune of 2,443 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) per 1,00,000 population. The age-adjusted suicide rate per 1,00,000 population is 21.1.

DALY is a measure of overall disease burden, expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.

It is estimated that in India, the economic loss from 2012 to 2030 due to mental health conditions would be 1.03 trillions of 2010 dollars.

It is high time our political discourse be free of stigma related to mental illness, the least we can do is to help improve mental health of our nation.



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Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Mar 31, 2019 02:13 pm
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