What is Mental Illness? & Its condition in India

Welcome, in this article we are going to take a brief look at Mental Health-related problems, we will try to understand the causes, risk factors and way to protect yourself from them, well you can’t entirely shield yourself from them but you can certainly take some steps to take care of yourself. We shall also be glancing at the condition of the Mental Health System in India.

Mental Illnesses are health conditions that lead to changes in emotions, mood, thoughts or behaviour (or a combination of these). Many people have ups and downs in life which could make one wonder if they have a mental illness or is it just life throwing punches at you. But when the symptoms persist and they lead to a disfunction in your life and create problems in social or work or family life, that’s when you would consider the possibility of a mental illness.

But even then, self-diagnosis is not recommended. If you think you have an illness then it’s best to leave it up to experts and go ahead and consult a doctor. But here lies the problem with our society, we consider going to a Mental Health expert as a sign of going “crazy” and there is a huge amount of stigma associated with it. Even with modern education, many hide their disability from the fear of being judged by our society. We have to keep in mind that the brain, just like any other organ in our body, can misbehave from time to time and it needs a little repairing and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

The field of Mental Health has grown tremendously over the last century. Today, many of the disorders are treatable and if not treatable then certainly manageable. We are continuously expanding our knowledge in the field but we have a long way to go, and in that killing the stigma would be one major step. I mean, if you had a headache, you wouldn’t hide it but god-forbid if you have anxiety, you would think about it even before telling your family.

One thing to keep in mind is that mental illnesses do not discriminate. Unlike other physiological diseases, they can happen to anyone irrespective of their age, gender, geographic location, income, social status, race, religion, sexual orientation, background or other aspects of identity. But, while mental illness can occur at any age, three-fourths of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 24, they might not be showing full-blown symptoms but to a certain extent for sure.

Mental illnesses can take many forms where some can be mild like phobias (fear of things) which would not impact an individual’s day to day life; while some can be so severe that immediate hospitalization is necessary like Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder Type 1’s manic phase.

Simply put, if you have any signs or symptoms of mental illnesses, visit a mental health professional, be it a therapist or a psychiatrist. The reason I say this is because most mental illnesses do not heal on their own and if left untreated, they might get worse over time and lead to serious life problems.

Mental illnesses are generally thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors. Let us look at them in brief…

Inherited Traits: Mental illness is more likely to occur if an individual has a blood relative with a mental illness. Certain genes can increase your risk of developing a mental illness, especially if your life has an event that triggers it.

Environmental Exposure Before Birth: Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illnesses.

Brain Chemistry: Naturally occurring Neurotransmitters carry signals to other parts of your brain and body from within the brain. When this network is impaired, the function of nerve receptors changes, leading to depression and other emotional disorders.

Life Occurrences: When an individual goes through a tragic event in life, there is a possibility of developing a mental illness, like a soldier returning from war could develop PTSD.

A few more examples of life occurrences are:

Stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one’s death or a divorce

An ongoing (chronic) medical condition, such as diabetes

Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury), such as a violent blow to the head

Traumatic experiences, such as military combat or assault

Use of alcohol or recreational drugs

A childhood history of abuse or neglect

Few friends or few healthy relationships

A previous mental illness

There’s no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you have a mental illness, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help keep your symptoms under control. These steps may help:

Pay attention to warning signs: Learn about your triggers that lead to your symptoms with the help of your Doctor or Therapist. Understand what to do in case you get triggered and symptoms return. Contact your Doctor/Therapist when you notice changes in your behaviour or persistent mood fluctuation. It’s always healthy to keep a close one informed about how you feel so that they can help you see the early warning signs.

Get routine check-ups: Do not neglect medical care and skip visits to your Doctor, especially when you see any early signs of symptoms.

Get help when you need it: Mental illnesses become harder to treat when symptoms go from bad to worse, so it is always recommended to get ahead of the curve and treat it when the early changes happen. Persistent treatment may also stop relapses from occurring.

Take good care of yourself: Lastly, it’s very important to take care of yourself, healthy eating and sleeping habits along with some physical activities go a long way. Try sticking to a schedule, this helps in removing the chaos of life. Always contact your doctor if you are having sleeping or eating issues.

Now let’s look at the condition in India when Mental Health Situation is considered.

According to WHO there is a huge shortage of Mental Health Professionals in the country as compared to the no. of people suffering. The body states that there are 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.07 psychologists, 0.12 nurses and 0.07 social workers per 100,000 people and the recommended no. are at least 3 psychiatrists and 3 psychologists per 100,000 people. So we can see that there is a huge gap that needs to be filled.

According to WHO numbers, 56 million Indians suffer from depression and another 38 million Indians suffer from anxiety disorder. These numbers make us realize how rampant the condition of mental health is in the country and that if we have a mental illness, then we are certainly not alone.

According to a survey conducted in 2015-16 by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, 9.8 million teens, in the age bracket of 13-17 years, suffer from depression and other mental illnesses and are “in need of active intervention”.

Now looking at the nation as a whole, The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2017 claims that one in seven Indians were affected by mental illnesses or varying severity in 2017 and the proportional rates of mental health disorders has doubled since 1990.

Coming to the final stage of mental illness, suicide; Lancet studies suggest that woman in India contributed 36.6% in 2016 to global suicide deaths; while men contributed 24.3% in 2016. These numbers a stark increment from 25.3% in 1990 for women and 18.7% for men in the same year.

Lastly, to understand the financial impact of the mental health crisis in our country we look at WHO’s estimate, which suggests that the economic loss, due to mental health conditions, between 2012-2030, is $1.03 trillion of 2010 dollars.


In conclusion, I would like to say that we all have a possibility of encountering a mental illness at one point or another in our lifetime, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. For some, it might last for a couple of weeks while for some it might be a recurring nightmare throughout the life span. But the first step towards solving either of the scenarios would be to talk about it and remove the stigma that is associated with it. We also need to solve the major shortage of mental health professionals in our country, and that will not happen till we are open about understanding that the mental health profession is not something to look down upon.

Lastly, I would like to repeat, do not self-diagnose, seek a professional opinion when needed.

P.S. Check out the video (for Hindi Speaking community)… Spread it with the Hindi speaking generation so that they too can understand and help the ones around them.