How serious are we about improving mental health facilities in our state?

Monday Musing

[Junroi Mamai]

A month ago, a man in a village went to one of his relative’s house to attend a wedding feast. He came home in the evening, feeling restless and nervous. The petrified man could not sleep the whole night. An unknown fear had gripped him, rendering him helpless. Gradually, the man stopped sleeping during the nights and ignored taking his daily meals. His condition deteriorated, with him claiming to hear voices all the time. These voices told him things that made him wary of his own family, his wife and his two children. Soon, the relatives gathered and discussed his condition; some viewed his condition as some sort of “possession” and, as superstitions are rife in villages, suggested taking him to a local witch doctor instead of seeking medical intervention.

The man, who was in his mid 30s, was left to suffer in this pathetic condition where he completely abandoned food and sleep for many days. Only when his condition did not improve despite the local witch doctors’ rituals did some elders opted to seek medical help for him. However, district hospitals in our state do not usually have a psychiatric department; therefore the man had to be taken to a mental health facility in Tezpur, Assam. Every family member and fellow villagers contributed whatever little money they had to help him get to the hospital in Assam.

This incident occurred a month ago, and although the damage that had been done to the man’s physical and mental health due to unnecessary delay in receiving medical help is irreversible, the man is now slowly recovering.

Cases like this are rather common in our state, owing to lack of awareness about mental health in our society. Hardly any focus is given to mental health and patients with mental health issues. There is a stigma attached to mental health, which hampers people with mental issues to come forward and seek proper medical help and support. Family members, too, sadly, owing to lack of awareness on mental health issues, are sometimes unable to help their loved ones.

According to a research, 46 percent of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition, while there are several other factors that may put a person at risk of suicide, including addiction, serious illness, or other social issues.

Arunachal is ranked 17th in the list of the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India-2020 report published by the National Crime Records Bureau. In 2015, Arunachal’s suicide rate was 10.4 percent, which slightly increased to 10.5 percent in 2022. The state having the highest suicide rate in the country is Sikkim (42.5 percent), followed by Chhattisgarh (26.4 percent) and Kerala (24 percent). The rate is calculated as the number of suicides per one lakh people.

Apart from lack of awareness, there is also an acute shortage of psychiatric wings in our state’s government hospitals. Access to mental health facilities is difficult in our state, especially in many of our district hospitals. The state has only one mental health facility in Midpu in Papum Pare district, which became functional in 2016.

Other than the mental health hospital in Midpu, there are no government mental health facilities anywhere in our districts which can cater to patients suffering from mental health issues but cannot afford expensive treatment elsewhere. Though the government has, whenever it can, highlighted the need for improvement in the state’s health facilities, no concrete steps have been taken so far to address the issue of lack of mental health hospitals and posting of adequate psychiatrists in our state’s government-run hospitals.