An unquiet mind

  • Nepal has a long way to go to adequately tackle the enormity of mental health issues

Apr 7, 2017-

Today is World Health Day. Celebrated every year on April 7, this day marks the founding in 1950 of the World Health Organisation, whose theme this year is “Depression: let’s talk”.  

Depression causes mental anguish and has devastating consequences; it affects people worldwide, irrespective of race, age or occupation. The main goal of this campaign is to make it easier for people with depression to seek and receive help. A campaign of this nature is sorely needed in Nepal, where mental health is one of the least prioritised issues. 

The WHO’s global outreach is undeniable. It has focused its attention on a host of maladies, including most recently on mental health. Mental illness accounts for 13 percent of the world’s disease burden—a figure that is estimated to rise to nearly 15 percent by 2030. 

In many countries of the world, including Nepal, there is little or no support for people with mental disorders. Nepal’s mental health policy, formulated in 1996, mentions the need for providing treatment and cures, but offers only one solution: community-based rehabilitation. This is not nearly enough to tackle the complexity and enormity of mental health problem. 

Approximately 30 percent Nepalis are suffering from psychiatric problems, and over 90 percent  have no access to treatment, according to the Health Research and Social Development Forum. And a paltry 2 percent of medical and nursing training is dedicated to mental health. These statistics paint a dismal picture. With the decade-long conflict and the devastating earthquakes of 2015, the Nepali people have taken several hard knocks. Couple that with widespread poverty, illiteracy, discrimination (caste-, gender-based, for example) and trauma—all defined as “risk factors” that contribute to mental health problems—and we can get a sense of the scale of the problem. 

Though mental health is receiving increasing attention in policy forums, there is little 

improvement on the ground. The social stigma surrounding mental health, lack of mental health infrastructure and insufficient human and material resources for mental health services are severe constraints. Reforming the health sector and establishing mental health system governance procedures and a ministry level coordination unit is no easy feat. However, with younger and more responsible leaders (Health Minister Gagan Thapa, for one), we can hope that mental health issues at least get the policy priorities they deserve. In fact, we urge open, public discourse on this matter. That would be a good beginning.

Published: 07-04-2017 07:57

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