Mental illness set to grow in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 11 (FN Agency) The burden of mental illness is set to grow in Kerala due to glaring resource shortage including mounting public debt and a large and vulnerable diaspora of economic migrants. A study published in 2021 compiled data from national and state level population surveys to note an increase in the number of persons living with mental illness from 272 per 100,000 in 2002 to 400 per 100,000 in 2018, according to Dr. Migita D’cruz, MD Psychiatry, DM Geriatric Psychiatry Associate Consultant, Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, here on Tuesday. The reasons for the increase in prevalence are likely complex and multiform, including rising urbanization, industrialization, changes in family structures, an increased number of outward migrants, rising educational and occupational stress, population that is aging at a higher rate than the rest of the country and increasing social isolation.

“Kerala’s high literacy and health care indices are also likely to play a role, leading to increasing case detection of mental illnesses, as was the case with our Covid-19 statistics,” Dr. Migita D’cruz said. “As Kerala, alongside the rest of the world, marks World Mental Health Day 2022 on October 10, it is time to introspect upon the state of mental health in the state itself. “The theme this year ‘Make Mental Health & Well-being for all a Global Priority’ emphasizes the toll the Covid-19 pandemic has taken, and will in all likelihood continue to take upon our collective mental health.” The state average of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists (0.12 and 0.06 per 10,000) was higher than the national average (0.067 and 0.007 per 10,000) – indicating accessibility to healthcare resources. However, the state average of psychiatric social workers (0.004 per 10,000) is lower than the national average (0.007 per 10,000) – which may go some way towards explaining why high literacy and good performance on most health care indices has not been associated with a decrease in the stigma associated with mental illnesses or their treatment.

This is clearly compounded by the pandemic, which, as a study in the Lancet estimated, has seen an increase in the prevalence of major depressive disorder by 27.6 per cent and anxiety disorders by 25.6 per cent across the world. Another study in 2021 conducted in the district of Ernakulum examined the mental health of 640 participants during the lock down to find 56.9 per cent reported depressive symptoms, Dr. Migita D’cruz said. Most people seemed to cope with their low mood and loneliness by consuming social media and music. Psycho social intervention models such as ‘Ottakkalla Oppamundu’ implemented through the District Mental Health Programme and Local Self Government served to address some mental health needs and provide crisis management. Addressing mental health needs will require more than the commemoration of a day in a year or the vague but well intentioned theme associated with it.