Pandemic worsens India’s mental health misery

Pandemic worsens India’s mental health misery

Social disapproval is ‘enemy No. 1’ for sufferers needing therapy

NEW DELHI — Shweta Jaitley, a New Delhi-based schoolteacher, was rushed to the hospital in early 2020 after apparently suffering a heart attack. The doctor’s diagnosis took everyone by surprise. It was a panic attack.

“The doctor said my high-stress life — a demanding job, three kids, elderly care — had taken a toll on my health,” says Jaitley, 35. “Apart from medications, I was also advised to see a psychologist. But therapy? No way. People would probably think I’m a lunatic!”

Jaitley’s attitude is common among Indians, many of whom shy away from professional help for mental health problems for fear of being judged. Yet 7.5% of Indians have mental health issues, with 56 million suffering from depression and another 38 million experiencing anxiety disorders, according to the World Health Organization.

Evidence of mental distress is all around. A 2015 study by ASSOCHAM, an industry body, found that 42.5% of employees in the private sector showed symptoms of anxiety or depression, while only 1,000 of the country’s 1.1 million active registered companies have employee assistance programs focused specifically on mental health.