Mental Health Issues amongst Children in India
Polity & Governance
21st Oct, 2023
As per the National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) conducted in 2015-16, the prevalence of mental disorders among children between ages 13-17 was around 7.3% in both genders, which has been ignored under policies by the government.
However, the Parliament is yet to develop a framework for a national-level school mental health Programme.
Key Points of consideration from NMHS:
- The survey showed how young children, especially girls, are vulnerable to sexual coersion, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, physical injuries and digital challenges like cyber-bullying, internet addiction and pornography.
- These risks in turn affect their physical as well as mental well-being.
- 8% girls were getting married below the legal age, while 8% of girls between ages 15-19 were already mothers or pregnant.
- The survey also found that 37% of women between ages 15-24 have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their husbands— this includes children technically of school-going age.
Need to consider mental health of Children:
- As per a report from United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), any mental health programme in schools must include five pillars of support — an enabling learning environment, access to early intervention and mental health services, teachers’ well-being, targetted mental health programmes using educational workforce in national, state and local levels, and meaningful collaboration between school, family and community.
- Under existing educational policies, plans and budgets, UNICEF lays a basic framework for how to build a school mental health programmes:
- employ dedicated counsellors
- guarantee access to tele-health mental health services
- promote government-issued helpline numbers
- maintain sufficient workforce of teaching and non-teaching staff to ensure teacher well-being
- promote community-based activities
- spread awareness on mental health, its issues as part of school curriculum
- collaborate with families, communities to better tailor the programme, monitor children’s health - leading to increased confidence, trust in relationships
- The UNICEF guidelines are still to be achieved in India.
Issues with mental health Programme in India:
- Severe Shortage of Mental Health Professionals: India faces a critical scarcity of mental health professionals, with inadequate psychiatrists, nurses, and psychologists.
- Lack of Comprehensive School Mental Health Programme (SMHP): Absence of a nationwide SMHP results in limited initiatives, like teacher training and helplines, insufficiently addressing children's mental health.
- Inadequate Government Funding for Mental Health: India allocates only 1.3% of its health expenditure to mental health, a fraction of the total health budget.
- In 1982, India launched the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) to ensure access to minimum mental healthcare for all, encourage inclusion of mental health knowledge in general medical services and to promote community participation in mental health service programmes.
- Under the NMHP, the District Mental Health Program (DMHP) was launched in 1996, covering some basic elements — early detection and treatment, training general physicians to diagnose and treat mental illnesses, public awareness and monitoring.
- The National Mental health policy, adopted in 2017, sought to destigmatise mental illnesses, take steps to prevent such illnesses and include those suffering from mental health issues in society.
- In 2018, the Modi government launched the School Health Programme under the aegis of the Ayushman Bharat scheme, launched the same year.
- Focusing on mental health of middle and high school children, the programme outlines health promotion activities like meditation and yoga, bullying prevention, internet safety and media literacy, prevention of substance abuse, violence and mental health awareness.
- Coordination committees at the block, district, State and national levels have been tasked with the implementation of the programme.
- These committees are to comprise of teachers, district magistrates, education and health officers, state secretaries and Union ministry representatives.