November 30, 2008

90 psychiatrists for 8.4 lakh patients in Bangalore

Bangalore's healthcare couldn't be more dismal. There are just 90 psychiatrists to treat an estimated 1.4 lakh people suffering from severe mental disorders and 7 lakh from minor ones, according to the state mental health authority. The government is struggling to provide mental healthcare due to lack of infrastructure and institutional support.

Outside Bangalore, there are approximately 200-210 psychiatrists across the state to treat 2% of the population who suffer from severe mental disorders and 10% from minor ones. Of these, 150 are in five districts -- Mangalore, Hubli, Dharwad, Mysore and Belgaum. The remaining are spread unevenly in other districts. But districts like Haveri, Koppal and Madikeri have no psychiatrists; Uttara Kannada and Chikmagalur have one each. Thus, many mental patients are deprived of treatment, particularly in rural areas.

Bangalore is known as the suicide capital of India, mainly because of deaths due to mental disorders related to stress, work pressure, health and family problems. Every year, 3,500 suicides and 30,000 attempted suicides are reported in the state.

According to state mental health authority secretary, H Chandrashekar, cases of suicides, alcoholism, schizophrenia and depression are rising in the state, and 60% emergency cases reported in hospitals are related to alcohol and suicide.

"Unfortunately, many people with mental disorders have no access to mental health services. With proper treatment and access to health providers, the number of suicide cases can be reduced," says Chandrashekar.

There is also a dearth of paramedics who have an important role. In Karnataka, there are 100 clinical psychologists who provide non-medical treatment like counselling and psychotherapy. Also, there are only 60-70 psychiatric social workers who provide rehabilitation of patients.

A major reason is not many students do the post-graduation course in mental health. Also, in the MBBS curriculum, students are not exposed to psychiatry and it is not part of their examination. There is also a shortage as many doctors go abroad. Of the 15,000 psychiatrists in India, only about 4,000 practise in the country simply because there is huge demand for psychiatrists all over the world.

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