Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Mental Health in India


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Mental health Disorders and Associated Initiatives

Mains level: Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in India, challenges and gaps in support system and Way forward

Mental Health

Central Idea

  • India is grappling with a significant mental health crisis, with an estimated 6%-7% of the population affected by mental disorders. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the situation, leading to increased stress levels across social segments. Unfortunately, most cases of mental illness remain untreated due to ignorance and social stigma, leaving patients and their families to suffer in silence.

The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in India

  • National Mental Health Survey (2016): According to this survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), approximately 13.7% of India’s population (around 150 million individuals) was estimated to be in need of active mental health interventions. This survey covered a wide range of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and psychosis.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) Report (2017): The WHO reported that India has one of the highest rates of major depression in the world, with over 5% of the population affected by this disorder. The report also highlighted that the prevalence of anxiety disorders in India was around 3.8%.
  • Global Burden of Disease Study (2017): This study estimated that mental health disorders accounted for 9.9% of the total disease burden in India. It encompassed a broad range of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance use disorders.
  • National Health Mission (NHM) Estimates: NHM estimates suggest that 6%-7% of India’s population suffers from mental disorders. This aligns with the prevalence rates reported in other studies.

Causes for Caregiver Stress

  • Physical and Emotional Caregiving: Caregivers are responsible for providing physical and emotional support to individuals with mental health disorders. The demanding nature of caregiving tasks, such as managing medications, attending to personal care needs, and addressing emotional distress, can contribute to caregiver stress.
  • Social Isolation: Caregivers often experience social isolation as they may have limited time for social interactions and leisure activities. The focus on caregiving can lead to a decreased social support network and feelings of loneliness.
  • Financial Difficulties: Mental health disorders can place a financial burden on families. The cost of treatment, medications, therapy sessions, and other related expenses can be significant. Caregivers may face financial strain, which adds to their stress levels.
  • Troublesome Behavior of the Patient: Behavioral issues associated with mental health disorders, such as aggression, mood swings, and self-harm, can be challenging for caregivers to manage. Dealing with these behaviors on a daily basis can contribute to high levels of stress.
  • Non-Adherence to Treatment: Many individuals with mental health disorders may struggle with adhering to treatment plans, such as taking medication regularly or attending therapy sessions. Non-adherence to treatment can be frustrating for caregivers, as it hampers the progress and well-being of the patient, leading to increased caregiver stress.
  • Primary Caregiver Burden: In larger families, the responsibility of caregiving may be shared among family members. However, with reducing family sizes and changing social dynamics, the primary caregiver burden often falls on one individual, such as the spouse. This increased responsibility and lack of support can contribute to caregiver stress.
  • Balancing Multiple Roles: Women caregivers, in particular, may face challenges in balancing caregiving responsibilities with other roles such as careers, child-rearing, and household chores. The juggling of multiple roles without sufficient support can lead to increased stress levels.

The Need for Structured Interventions

  • Education and Awareness: Structured interventions can provide caregivers with comprehensive education and awareness about mental health disorders. This includes understanding the nature of the illness, its symptoms, treatment options, and available resources. Education empowers caregivers with the knowledge needed to better support their loved ones and navigate the challenges associated with mental health disorders.
  • Role Clarity and Responsibilities: Structured interventions help caregivers clarify their roles and responsibilities in providing care for individuals with mental health disorders. This clarity reduces confusion and uncertainty, allowing caregivers to have a better sense of control and confidence in their caregiving abilities.
  • Coping Skills and Stress Management: Caregiving can be emotionally and physically demanding, leading to high levels of stress. Structured interventions can equip caregivers with coping skills and stress management techniques to better handle the challenges they face. This may include strategies for self-care, relaxation techniques, problem-solving skills, and setting boundaries to prevent burnout.
  • Peer Support and Networking: Structured interventions often incorporate peer support and networking opportunities. Caregivers can connect with others who are going through similar experiences, fostering a sense of belonging and reducing feelings of isolation. Sharing experiences, exchanging advice, and receiving support from peers can be invaluable in coping with caregiver stress.
  • Access to Counseling and Helplines: Structured interventions can provide caregivers with access to professional counseling services and helplines. These services offer a safe and confidential space for caregivers to express their concerns, seek guidance, and receive emotional support. Counseling can help caregivers process their emotions, manage caregiver stress, and develop effective coping strategies.
  • Psychoeducation and Skill Building: Structured interventions often include psychoeducational sessions and skill-building workshops for caregivers. These sessions cover various topics such as understanding the condition, recognizing early warning signs of relapse, learning about available therapies and their effectiveness, managing treatment-related expenses, and identifying and implementing effective coping mechanisms.
  • Family Counselling and Involvement: Involving the entire family in structured interventions can foster a supportive environment for the individual with a mental health disorder. Family counselling sessions can enhance communication, understanding, and cooperation within the family, leading to better overall outcomes for the individual’s mental health.

Challenges and Gaps in Support Systems

  • Lack of Trained Specialists: One of the major challenges is the shortage of trained mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. India has a low ratio of psychiatrists and psychologists per population, making it difficult to provide adequate support and interventions for caregivers.
  • Cost-Effective Intervention Implementation: Implementing cost-effective intervention models for caregiver support is hindered by the lack of trained specialists. The shortage of mental health professionals makes it challenging to scale up and deliver structured interventions that are accessible and affordable for caregivers.
  • Insufficient Budget Allocation: The are concerns about insufficient budget allocation for mental health patients. Inadequate funding for mental health services further exacerbates the challenges in developing and implementing interventions specifically designed to support caregivers.
  • Limited Insurance Coverage: Mental illnesses are often excluded from the list of ailments covered by leading medical insurers in India. While government schemes like Ayushman Bharat provide coverage for mental disorders, coverage by private insurers remains limited. This lack of comprehensive insurance coverage creates a gap in financial support for caregivers seeking mental health services.
  • Expensive Private Mental Health Institutions: Private mental health institutions may provide services, but their costs can be prohibitively expensive for many individuals and families. This restricts access to quality mental health care and support for caregivers who may not be able to afford the high costs associated with private institutions.
  • Inadequate Support for Caregivers: The current counselling services provided to caregivers upon request are not sufficient. Many caregivers may not be aware of their own emotional strain or may not proactively seek support due to various reasons, such as lack of awareness, stigma, or personal barriers.

Mental Health

Gaps in Insurance Coverage for Mental Health Disorders

  • Exclusion from Leading Medical Insurers: The mental illnesses are excluded from the list of ailments covered by leading medical insurers in India. This means that individuals seeking treatment for mental health conditions may not receive adequate insurance coverage or reimbursement for their expenses.
  • Mental Healthcare Act 2017: The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 aimed to rectify this issue by mandating that mental disorders should be treated on par with physical disorders for insurance coverage. However, it suggests that private insurers still have limited coverage for mental health disorders, indicating a gap between the mandate and its implementation.
  • Government Schemes and Public Sector Insurance: While government schemes like Ayushman Bharat provide coverage for mental disorders, the article mentions that coverage by private insurers remains limited. This implies that individuals relying on private insurance may face challenges in obtaining comprehensive coverage for mental health conditions.
  • Affordability and Accessibility: The private mental health institutions may provide services but at a higher cost, making them financially burdensome for many individuals and families. The lack of comprehensive insurance coverage further restricts access to affordable mental health care, exacerbating the affordability and accessibility challenges

Way Forward

  • Structured Intervention Programs: Introducing structured intervention programs specifically aimed at educating and supporting caregivers are essential. These programs should provide information about mental health disorders, caregiver roles and responsibilities, coping mechanisms, and resources for assistance.
  • Comprehensive Treatment Approach: There is need of a comprehensive treatment approach that involves healthcare professionals, informal caregivers, and psychosocial interventions. This collaborative approach recognizes the crucial role of caregivers and their involvement in the treatment process.
  • Early Support for Caregivers: Studies in developed countries have shown that providing support to family caregivers at the onset of the psychiatric illness of their loved ones is crucial. Early intervention and support can enhance caregiver well-being and improve patient treatment participation.
  • Intervention Models: Successful intervention models include cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoeducational skill building, family counseling, and peer support. These models focus on providing caregivers with practical skills, knowledge, and emotional support to effectively manage caregiver responsibilities and cope with the challenges they face.
  • Addressing Systemic Gaps: There are evident gaps in the healthcare system, including the shortage of trained specialists and insufficient budget allocation for mental health patients. Addressing these systemic gaps is crucial for developing and implementing effective caregiver support programs.
  • Insurance Coverage: Expanding insurance coverage for mental disorders, as mandated by the Mental Healthcare Act 2017, is essential. Private insurers should also be encouraged to provide comprehensive coverage for mental health conditions to ensure financial support for caregivers seeking mental health services.
  • Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Community Movements: There is need to acknowledge the work of NGOs and community movements engaged in community support for mental illness and caregivers. Scaling up their efforts and ensuring collaboration with healthcare professionals can help bridge the existing gaps in caregiver support


  • Recognizing and addressing the caregiver burden is imperative in India’s mental health landscape. Structured interventions that educate and support caregivers are crucial for improving their well-being and promoting patient treatment participation. Moreover, bridging the gaps in healthcare infrastructure, sufficient trained specialists, and expanding insurance coverage for mental disorders are essential steps toward providing comprehensive care for psychiatric patients and their caregivers.

Also read:

Its high time to focus on Mental Health


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