Every once in a while a wave of depression hits social media and a clammer goes up about spreading the awareness regarding mental health.
As absurd statistics of 38 % of India being depressed are floating around, I have a simple question.
Yes, being aware about depression is a great idea, but has anyone considered the aftermath of this awareness? If the claimed 38 %, i.e. about 45 crore Indians go looking for professional help, what would they find?
India has, possibly, the worst per capita ratio of mental healthcare professionals. The statutorily recognised professionals, i.e. psychiatrists and neurologists are less than 1 per 1,00,000 of population. But, that fact is not as scary as the state of the third stakeholder in this issue, i.e. psychologist.
Psychologist is first point of contact for anyone in need of clinical help. He is our first line of defence against the floodgates that we are trying force open through awareness. But, there is no real discussion about statutory status of psychologists in India.
In India, for a long time, psychology was an educational qualification with very little value and attracted mostly those from the bottom of the cesspool of academic merit. As psychology graduates did not get a sense of professional qualification, the sector did not evolve into a formal profession.
The psychologist that we have today is often a person with a little bit of articulation claiming the grand title of councilor and assigning labels like depression and anxiety to troubled people desperately looking for help.
We need to grasp that mental healthcare is different than other medical domains because many of its malaises are extenuated forms of normal feelings and behaviors. It is impossible for a self-proclaimed doctor to convince you that you have TB, but a half-baked councilor can force depression upon you purely because all of us have some symptoms of “depression”.
Diagnosis of mental problems is a fine art of judging between normal and excess/deficit-from-normal making it the toughest branch of medicine for clinical practice. What makes is worse is that a lot of psychological problems are self-feeding in nature. So, a misdiagnosis can lead a problem to snowball quickly into a serious psychological problem that was not even there.
Looking at the highly sensitive nature of mental healthcare, there can be nothing worse than it being routed through an unregulated group of people. And yet, there is no real effort being made to consolidate or regulate psychologists at any level.
As social media has decided to take up the cause of depression, completely baseless statistics like “38% Indians have depression” are spreading around and creating a situation where hypochondria can grip masses and make them rush to seek help. In such circumstances, untrained and self-proclaimed psycho-councilors can mislead people and ruin lives.
What India urgently needs is a thorough review existing curriculum of psychology and create a separate statutorily recognized branch focused exclusively on clinical psychology. Those that earn this professional title must be put under the regulating council that can hold them accountable in case of malpractice.
I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but prozac-popping west is already an indicator of what this “awareness” can do to people. So, if everyone with a bad hair day is encouraged to consider it a as a cue to visit a “psychologist”, one group that will surely be relieved of any depression they may have will be pharmaceutical companies.
Our nation needs to know a lot of things, but we better do it only when we are ready for the aftermath of knowing. Looking at where our mental healthcare infrastructure stands today, we are not ready to know how depressed we are.