The World Health Organization says depression is now the leading cause of illness worldwide with 300 million people living with the disease. Depression is also the theme of the WHO’s annual World Health Day which is held every year on April 7. To raise awareness about the illness, the organization launched the Depression: let’s talk campaign. WHO statistics highlight India’s current mental health resources and provide a roadmap for future outreach.
The 2017 WHO report “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders,” reported 4.5 percent of India’s population lives with a depressive disorder and 3.0 percent deal with an anxiety disorder.
India is classified as a lower to middle income country. As such, the WHO estimates countries in this income bracket spend $1.53 per capita on mental health care as compared to close to $60 per capita for high income countries.
What’s more, South East Asian Region countries of which India is included, report 4.8 health care workers per 100,000 people as compared to 16.2 workers for countries in the Americas region and 43.5 recorded in countries in the European region.
GRAVIS Mental Health Outreach to rural communities
When it comes to mental health issues, the estimated 23 million people in the Thar Desert are especially vulnerable due to lack of access to overall health care.
According to the GRAVIS report “VHF – Viability of Community Health Funds in the Thar Desert, some of the factors that make health care difficult for people living in rural communities are distance to facilities, cost of medical care and lack of awareness about access to resources.
Physical health problems such as tuberculosis, skin and eye diseases and malnutrition are common in the drought-prone Thar Desert that only receives an average 200 millimeters of rain a year.
These illnesses combined with the often impoverished conditions that come with life in the Thar can create or exacerbate mental health issues, according to GRAVIS.
Outreach to the Elderly
India’s senior citizen population is expected to reach at least 227 million by 2050, according to GRAVIS. To meet the needs of this growing, vulnerable population, GRAVIS works to generate awareness about the needs of the elderly in the rural regions.
For example in the GRAVIS’ publication, “Determining Older People’s Health Needs,” GRAVIS conducted a survey measuring several factors including the physical pain, social interaction and feelings of anxiety older generations experience. Specifically related to anxiety, around 45 percent of respondents said they felt anxious or nervous sometimes or a lot of the time.
Village Health Care Workers
GRAVIS partners with several organizations to train volunteers living in the villages to provide overall care to the community. VHWs are trained in providing chronic disease treatment and prevention, and basic first aid. The volunteers’ outreach includes a focus on diseases that impact seniors, and outreach to raise awareness about this population’s specific needs. The NGO is also in the process of training mental health workers to care for older populations, their care takers, and to educate younger generations about the needs of the elderly.
For those that may not have the ability to travel to a medical facility, GRAVIS coordinates medical camps to provide treatment in the villages. Here, people are screened for illnesses, and provided basic treatment and information on disease prevention with a specific focus on the elderly. In 2014 alone, over 60 camps were organized, reaching out to over 3,000 people.
GRAVIS Hospital was established in 2000 in the village of Tinwari. Here, it has provided care for at least 200,000 people. The hospital, which is one of the only facilities in the area, provides free and reduced cost services and surgeries including the completion of at least 25,000 cataract surgeries.
Self Help Groups
A lack of social and emotional support has been reported to be a factor in mental health illnesses such as depression. To reach out to women who may feel isolated, GRAVIS has helped to facilitate close to 1,700 self help groups. The groups offer women assistance with vocational training, small business loans and social and emotional support.
On this World Health Day, GRAVIS understands physical and mental health are intertwined. Our outreach meets rural desert communities where they are at,+ and aims to holistically improve the quality of their lives.
* by Laura Michels, Volunteer