According to a study undertaken in April this year by the Kerala State Mental Health Authority in collaboration with the National Health Mission, Kerala is witnessing an alarming spurt in mental health disorders in the backdrop of a fast-changing socio-economic societal set-up.
State Health Minister KK Shailaja released the mental health report on Saturday, the first of its kind. Kerala is the first state in the country to implement District/Community Mental Health (DMHP/CMHP) programmes in all its 14 districts in 2013.
The study was however conducted only in five districts namely Kollam, Idukki, Palakkad, Wayanad and Kasargod. The survey was administered by specially-trained Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers who collected details of 45,886 households with 1,92,980 residents in 137 wards, out of which 108 were Grama Panchayats, and 29 -part of either a Municipality or Corporation.
This was undertaken to â€˜estimate the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in the general population in relation to socio demographic variablesâ€™.
12.43% of the adult population surveyed was found to be affected by priority mental health conditions like psychosis, common mental disorders, alcohol related problems, dementia and cognitive impairment.
An estimated 90 out of 1000 adults suffered from common mental disorders, with a 0.55% estimated lifetime prevalence of psychosis in the total population.
Kerala is notorious for its high alcohol consumption, with one-tenth of its current drinkers in the â€˜high drinkingâ€™ category.
Of the districts included in the survey, Idukki recorded the maximum alcohol-related problems while the least number was seen in Wayanad. A staggering 98.43% of alcoholics figured in the age group of 18 and above, with 95.3% of them being males.
With Keralaâ€™s rapidly aging demography, higher age-groups, lack of higher education and female gender were found to be â€˜risk factors for dementia and cognitive impairmentâ€™.
A highly probable increase in the number of people â€˜with dementia and other disabling neuro-psychiatric conditionsâ€™ -the study says- will naturally lead to an exponential increase in long-term care needs.
With families looking for more support to deal with the same, home-based care as well as assisted living spaces outside a home-setting, the state government should consider investing in operational research to guide cost-effective and feasible interventions to deal with depressive disorders and other minor health problems.
Mental health literacy is hence the need of the hour, with poverty remaining a major â€˜barrier to proper mental health careâ€™. It is not just psychiatrists alone who need to step in to treat those in need, but even non-specialist health care providers can be trained for the same. For this, the study suggests that the undergraduate training in the psychiatry module in the MBBS course be strengthened.
The study concludes that improved societal access to mental health care will lead Kerala one step closer to the World Health Organizationâ€™s (WHO) goal of Universal Health Care.