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Last Updated : Sep 10, 2017 10:46 AM IST | Source:

Huge gap in demand and supply of medical practitioners for mental health, says Neerja Birla

WHO said that India has 15.7 suicides per 100,000 people in 2015. The average for South East Asia was 12.9 suicides per 100,000 people.

M Saraswathy @maamitalks
Representative image
Representative image

Every three seconds, a person attempts suicide. And if you notice the red flags on time, you will be able to prevent it. Neerja Birla, Founder and Chairperson of Mpower, a firm specialising in offering care and allied services for mental health said there is still a huge gap in treatment for mental health issues in India.

September 10 is observed globally as World Suicide Prevention Day to create awareness about mental health and also help observe early signs to aid prevention. The World Health Organization estimates over 800,000 people die by suicide each year, that’s one person every 40 seconds.

“In India, there are 3800 psychiatrists, 898 clinical psychologists, 850 psychiatric social workers and 1500 psychiatric nurses. This is very small. This translates to 3 psychiatrists per million people and according to WHO, this is 18 times fewer than the Commonwealth norm which is 5.6 psychiatrists per 100,000 people,” said Birla. She said the country is short of 6200 psychiatrists.

In March, the Mental Healthcare Bill was passed by the Parliament that decriminalises suicide and encourages coverage for mental health-related ailments. Birla said this has also also increased the funding to centres of excellence in mental health which will boost efforts to create awareness and provide support.

However, basic facilities like insurance is still being talked about. Regular medical reimbursement programmes offered by corporates also do not cover either medication or visits to the therapists for mental health issues.


If you are running a fever, you never see any stigma associated with picking up the phone and talking to a doctor. There is a certain schema there that anything to do with our mind makes us weak and vulnerable. We do not want to then admit to it,” said Birla.

Mpower, which started its Mumbai centre in May 2016, is now looking to expand to other cities as well. “Opening our first counselling cell at BITS Pilani, Goa for the campus. We want to take it to Pune and Bangalore and also want to target university campuses and have reached out to instituites like IIT Madras,” she said.

While Mpower and other institutions like them have been reaching to educational institutes and corporates, Birla said that it is still early days. In their outreach programme, Mpower offers free workshops to schools and also encourage them to take a student-assisted programme. They will also be opening up a helpline next year.

“In Mumbai, we reached out to 180 schools in Mumbai we reached out too, but only five have said yes. Why are we shirking it under the carpet and not giving it due importance? People are talking about it but when it comes into taking action, it is slow,” she added.

According to research, the first one minute where a person contemplates suicide is the most crucial. Birla said that through their campaign, they have been trying to create an awareness about this and encourage individuals, especially yougsters between the age of 18-30 years to seek help and also listen to people in need of help.
First Published on Sep 10, 2017 10:46 am
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