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150 million people worldwide suffer from depression: Dr.Thara

Leslie Ann Tripathy

Last updated on March 16th 2011

Chennai: ACJ students from health elective today had the opportunity to listen to Dr.R.Thara, Director of SCARF. She was introduced on stage by Dr. Jaya Shreedhar, physician and health expert. Dr.Thara teaches at Columbia University and a member of Mental Health Advisory Board for the Government. SCARF is the acronym for the Schizophrenia Research Foundation, a non governmental, non profit organization in Chennai in India. SCARF was founded in 1984 by a group of philanthropists and mental health professionals led by Dr. M.Sarada Menon, an internationally known psychiatrist. SCARF has established itself as a center of repute in rehabilitation and research in disorders of the mind. The present team led by the Director Dr.R.Thara has psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, rehab personnel, administrative and support staff.

SCARF is also the Indian co-ordinating site for the anti-stigma programme of the World Psychiatric Association.
Dr.Thara highlighted according to 2005 data released by WHO, that of over 1 billion population in India, around 7-8 million people have serious mental illness and mental disability. But sadly there are only 3500 psychiatrists and around 4500 psychologists and social workers for a million population. And 2.05% of budget is spent on mental health, where there are restricted health benefits for the disabled. In 1995, there was an act implemented for the disabled, which protected their rights and gave them equal opportunities under the Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights, Full Participation
Act, 1995

Types of Mental Disorders

Dr.Thara asked the class to raise hands that never had been depressed, anxious or been panicky earlier. No body in class raised their hands, which implied human beings usually have these symptoms which are not classified as a medical condition unless it becomes a regular condition. Dr.Thara categorized Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorders, Major depression, Suicide, Alcohol and drug abuse as major mental health conditions.

Ray of light for the Mentally Disabled?

Highlighting Government’s step motherly treatment to the mental health unit, Dr.Thara said there is no Mental Health Policy in India. Though The National Health Policy of 2002 mentions MH(mental health), where it is maintained that the 11th five year plan will recognize the importance of MH care and will concentrate on providing counseling, medical services and establishing helplines for all, especially people affected by calamities, riots and violence.
SCARF is one of the very few NGOs in the world to be named as a Collaborating Centre of the World Health Organization (WHO) for Mental Health Research and Training.
Dr. Srinivas said according to the WHO MHGap Programme, 150 million people world wide suffer from depression and 125 million people are affected by alcohol use disorders whereas 40 million suffer from epilepsy and 25 million suffer from alzheimers dementia and 0.5- 1% of people across the world suffer from Schizophrenia. Mental, neurological, and substance use disorders are common in all regions of the world, affecting every community and age group across all income countries. While 14% of the global burden of disease is attributed to these disorders most of the people affected - 75% in many low-income countries - do not have access to the treatment they need.

The mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) aims at scaling up services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders for countries especially with low- and middle-income. The programme asserts that with proper care, psychosocial assistance and medication, tens of millions could be treated for depression, schizophrenia, and epilepsy, prevented from suicide and begin to lead normal lives– even where resources are scarce.

While addressing on the World Mental Health Day 2010, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urged countries to “embrace and fulfill the objectives of the programme”.
He further added, “We must break down the barriers that continue to exclude those with mental or psychological disabilities. There is no place in our world for discrimination against those with mental illness. There can be no health without mental health”.

Dr.Thara addressed a volley of questions posed to her by the audience. To a question posed by a student on the difference between personality disorder and mental disorder, she explained people who had personality disorder exploited the vulnerable and had cases of lack of guilt; they have no motivation for change. She gave example of cases of stalkers referring to the recent murder of student in Delhi, Radhika Tanwar. Dr.Thara also addressed the question on mental illness of transgenders, she underlined the fact that they are stigmatized hence suffered from low self-esteem, as they wanted to be accepted in the society for their identity.


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