Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
The National Mental Health Policy is based, inter-alia, on the values and principles of equity, justice, integrated and evidence based care, quality, participatory and holistic approach to mental health.
It enlists the comprehensive list of vulnerable groups, which include the poor (who are linked with mental illnesses in a “negative vicious cycle”), the homeless (who have “no provision for care and support”), persons in custodial institutions (who face a “deprivation of personal liberty”), orphans, children, the elderly and people affected by emergencies and various natural or man-made disasters.
Its goals and objectives include the following:
• to reduce distress, disability, exclusion, morbidity and premature mortality associated with mental health problems across life-span of a person,
• to enhance understanding of mental health in the country,
• to provide universal access to mental health care,
• to increase access to mental health services for vulnerable groups,
• to reduce risk and incidence of suicide and attempted suicide,
• to ensure respect for rights and protection from harm of persons with mental health problems, and reduce stigma associated with mental health problems
• to enhance availability and distribution of skilled human resources for mental health.
It also recognises the fact that mental health is linked to many other aspects of life, and thus recommends allocation of funds not just to the government’s health department but also to other sectors such as social welfare, school education and women and child development.
In addition to the treatment of mental illnesses, the policy also stresses the need to prevent such problems and promote mental health. It places the onus of such promotion on early childhood care itself, by targeting anganwadi centres for children below six years of age.
The policy aims to train anganwadi workers and school teachers to help parents and care-givers understand the “physical and emotional needs of children to facilitate and affirmative and positive environment” for their growth. It also proposes teaching mandatory life skills education in schools and colleges that, among other things, includes discussions on issues of gender and social exclusion.
To bring down rates of suicide in India, the policy talks of setting up crisis intervention centres, training community leaders to recognise risk factors, restricting access to means of suicide and also framing guidelines for responsible media reporting of the issue.