–  Pankti Galia

We all have come across the term ‘Mental Health’ during the COVID-19 pandemic but what  exactly is Mental Health? Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social well-being  which affects how we think, feel and act. According to WHO (2015), “It is a state of well-being  in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life,  can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her  community.” Mental health awareness and mental healthcare aids individuals to openly talk  about their mental illnesses and seek right kind of help. The individual may have to reach out to  a psychiatrist, psychologist or even admit them to rehabilitation centers or hospital.  

According to Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, the act is “to provide mental healthcare and services  for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfil the rights of such persons  during delivery of mental healthcare and services and for matters connected therewith or  incidental thereto”. The Chapter V (Right to access mental healthcare) of the act mentions the  following- “(1) Every person shall have right to access mental healthcare and treatment from  mental health services run or funded by the appropriate Government; (2) The right to access  mental healthcare and treatment shall mean mental health services of affordable cost, of good  quality, available in sufficient quantity, accessible geographically without any discrimination; (3)  The appropriate Government shall make sufficient provision as may be necessary, for a range of  services required by persons with mental illness” and so on. 

The current situation of policies in India are related to only physical health and mental health  conditions are not covered. After the implementation of Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, “mental  and genetic disorder can’t be excluded from health insurance coverage”, says IRDAI as the  insurers can no longer deny the coverage to those suffering from mental and genetic disorders.  After this announcement and implementation, the insurers were selective in providing such  covers to limited mental disorders. According to IRDAI, treatment of mental disorders, stress,  neurodegenerative and psychological disorders which need hospitalization will have to be  covered. According to 2017 reports, only 44% of 1.3 billion people in India have health  insurance policy and low levels of education and economic cost of the care of a person with  mental disorder per month out-of-pocket expenditure was INR 1000-1500, as a huge burden  especially for those belonging to lower socioeconomic strata with disability, chronicity, severe  mental disorders and relapses (Bijal et al., 2019).  

In today’s scenario, in India there are limited insurance companies which cover limited mental  health conditions in their policy plan. Such plan are not yet fully advocated yet, Indian citizens  are still not aware of such policies and the policy plan are not provided in detail. Outpatient  services, medical treatment, medications, therapy sessions, professional practitioner fees are not  covered and high amount of ‘premium’ is to be paid. Some of the private companies like HDFC  ERGO, ICICI Lombard Health Insurance, Max Bhupa Premia, Aditya Birla Captial, etc and  public health insurance schemes like Biju SwasthyaKalyan Yojana of Odisha offers free or  limited treatment, reimbursement and coverage of the mental health conditions. (Bijal et al.,  2019; Singh, 2019). All such schemes and policy plans must include the cost of OPD treatment 

Follow-up for mental disorders, good awareness and advocacy of the plans for better  implementation of the act.  

In a survey held, 48 responses (18 and above age group, residing in India)were taken regarding  what community knows about mental health, how they perceive mental health situation in India  and what are the community needs regarding mental health and its policies. The survey had  60.4% female and 39.6% males participants with various educational qualification. Participants  were asked that are they aware of what mental health is, 79.2% said ‘yes’, 12.5% said ‘no’ and  8.3% said ‘maybe’. According to the survey reports, 93.8% think that mental health is as  important as physical health, 89.6% think that mental health affects physical health and 77.1% of  them or their family members suffer from diagnosed mental illness. When asked that are they  aware of any mental health policy in India, most of them were not aware of any policy but 75%  think that there should be mental health policy like physical health policy, 72.9% think that  people not aware of such policies and 72.9% think that there is a need for mental health policy.  Respondents were also asked for suggestion and 77.1% think that mental health and its policies  requires improvement in coverage and awareness. According to the community need, the criteria  which a mental health policy should include are coverage for therapies, medications, inpatient  and outpatient treatment, psychological tests, therapists or psychologists fees, hospital charges,  more inclusion of psychological disorders/ conditions like depression, pre and post  hospitalization and its advertisement or awareness.  

According to the current private and public plans and community needs, India needs proper,  well-defined and well-detailed policy plan for all age groups without any discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, race, religion, sex and socio-economic strata. The Mental Health Policy  Plan should cover various mental health conditions like- Schizophrenia, Depression, Anxiety  disorder, Autism Spectrum, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Mood Disorders, IDD  (Intellectual Developmental Disorder /Mental retardation), Personality disorders, Cerebral Palsy  & Genetic disorders and Dementia.  

It is seen that Indians invest their money in learning, stocks, physical health, etc but not on  mental health where post COVID-19, mental health is given importance and our country must  have policies for all communities in India without discrimination and proper advocacy.