Worse Than Animals Dire Report On Mental Health Care In India

Worse Than Animals Dire Report On Mental Health Care In India
Highlights

Women with psychosocial disabilities in India face systematic abuse at mental-health institutions, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

Women with psychosocial disabilities in India face systematic abuse at mental-health institutions, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

People with disabilities, particularly women, are perceived as “incapable, weak” and lacking “the capacity to make any meaningful decisions about their lives,” says the New York-based advocacy group in its report, “Treated Worse Than Animals.” Some are institutionalised by their families against their will at mental hospitals, where they face abuses including detention, unsanitary conditions, neglect, involuntary medical treatment and violence, says the 106-page report.

Like much of India’s public-health system, mental health care is under-funded: The government spends 0.06 per cent of its health budget on mental care, according to the World Health Organisation’s Mental Health Atlas of 2011. By comparison, the US spends 6.2 per cent of GDP on mental health and England spends 10.82 per cent. Even Bangladesh beats India at 0.44 per cent.

According to India’s health ministry, 6 per cent to 7 per cent of the population suffers from psychosocial disabilities, and there is a shortage of health professionals to meet the demand for care. India has 3,500 psychiatrists, one for every 343,000 people, according to the WHO. The U.S. has one for every 12,837 people.

In many mental hospitals patients sleep on mattresses on the floor because there aren’t enough bed frames. And some staff members have a dismissive attitude toward the patients, said Rucha Joshi, a psychiatrist, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

“I wouldn’t say the patients are verbally abused, but they’re spoken to in a way they shouldn’t be,” Joshi said. “They hear the staff saying things like, ‘Everyone here is mentally retarded.’”

Most of the women at the hospital are illiterate and come from poor families, and are neglected by their families, Joshi said. “The biggest challenge is getting the patients accepted back into society,” she said. Conditions are similar at most institutions across the country according to the Human Rights Watch report, which is based on interviews with more than 250 people on visits to 24 institutions across six Indian cities in four states.

“Women and girls with disabilities are dumped in institutions by their family members or police in part because the government is failing to provide appropriate support and services,” said Kriti Sharma, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

In an attempt to improve its mental-health system, the Indian government unveiled its first mental-health policy in October. The policy draws attention to stigma and recognises the link between poverty and mental ill health. It also notes that social exclusion, unequal opportunity and income disparity could aggravate mental illness, particularly for vulnerable groups such as poor, homeless women.

“To be female, poor and sick is a deadly combination, and it’s so common,” said Keshav Desiraju, the government’s former health secretary, in a recent interview.

By: Shanoor Seervai

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