Dr Gowri Kulkarni, Head of Medical Operations, MediBuddy highlights the need for inclusion of mental health in primary medical care
The stigma and social taboo around mental health continues to be prevalent in India, even in this age and time. Despite growing awareness, mental health is still looked upon with negative connotations. This has been seen as one of the key factors resulting in why patients suffering from mental health issues are reluctant to seek out medical advice.
Recent studies conducted at global and national levels have revealed that mental health issues are increasing by the day and more so amongst the younger population. Rise in mental health problems is a reason for concern and can be blamed on a variety of factors ranging from external stressors, circumstantial or genetic influences. However, the biggest challenge continues to be debunking people’s perception about mental health and encouraging them to seek treatment just like any other chronic disease.
While there is still a considerable amount of awareness amongst individuals in the urban areas about mental health; In the rural pockets of India where most areas face a shortage of primary medical services, there is little to no awareness about mental health issues. Poor availability of medical resources, along with lack of awareness has become a huge block in diagnosis and treatment. One of the solutions to which can be is telemedicine, which with the help of technology can allow individuals in the remotest of areas to consult with specialized mental health professionals regarding their mental health problems.
The pandemic with its baggage of environmental stressors has resulted in a huge rise of mental health-related issues such as depression, anxiety, excessive fears, poor concentration, hopelessness, grief, and bereavement. The availability of telemedicine has, however, been a blessing in disguise. With improving accessibility and allowing more individuals to seek out help. With restriction and lockdown, teleconsultations were an accessible mode to reach out to mental health professionals to seek help. It allowed patients to consult with professionals on the go, set up appointments as per their convenience, and receive timely care from the safety of their homes.
While the medical fraternity does understand the gravity of the situation and the need for focusing on mental health issues. The existing burden of communicable diseases and physical ailments, however, makes it difficult for them to prioritize both as practitioners. To rectify this, there are conscious efforts and medical training taking place to help understand mental health issues and early detection. It is essential for medical practitioners to engage in continued medical education and training specifically with mental health issues as a focus
Treating patients with mental health issues requires a lot of time, empathy, and patience. As there is no directive or estimated timeline on when a patient would recover. Every individual patient has their own pathway to treatment that can last for weeks, months, or even years. The paucity of mental healthcare practitioners makes this situation even trickier, with the number of patients continuing to elevate and the ratio for doctors treating them widening. However, with the rise in digital healthcare, we hope to bridge the gap soon.
It is imperative to treat mental health issues as any other physical ailment. With collective efforts from the medical fraternity and individuals, we can propagate and encourage individuals to eliminate the stigma and come forward to consult a medical professional.