A Shift in India’s Attitude Towards Mental Health is the First Step Towards Systemic Change

The results of LiveLoveLaugh’s latest nationwide study - How India Perceives Mental Health - show a marked change in India’s attitude towards mental illness. What does this mean for mental health treatment and the future of people living with mental illness?

In December 2021, we announced the findings of LiveLoveLaugh’s nationwide survey on the perceptions of mental health and views about persons with mental illness. The study builds on our findings from a similar exercise in 2018, and the results are encouraging. Featuring the views of 3,497 people across nine cities - Bengaluru, Delhi, Guwahati, Hyderabad, Kanpur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, and Pune - the survey explored the knowledge, attitudes, and practices (KAPs) of mental health in India, specifically the change from 2018. The study’s findings represent substantial progress in our country’s attitude towards mental health. 

The study found that 92% of respondents would seek treatment and support a person seeking treatment for mental illness, a significant spike from the 54% in 2018. If this openness to treatment was heartwarming, equally important was the change in public perception of people with mental illness, with 65% of respondents believing that people with mental illness could find gainful employment and lead stable, healthy lives, double the 32% in 2018. In a country where mental health awareness remains low, this shift is a seismic leap made possible by the valuable and tireless work of mental health champions. 

Since the inception of LiveLoveLaugh in 2015, we have maintained that greater awareness of mental health and destigmatization of mental illness is key to creating more open conversations. Consequently, all of our initiatives, from our flagship adolescent mental health program - You Are Not Alone (YANA) - to our rural community mental health project, and capacity-building initiatives, have focused on educating people and generating deep conversations about mental health. It is heartening to see the impact of this faith and work in just three years, moving from a culture that views mental illness with suspicion to one that respects and understands its implications on both sufferers and caregivers.

For those who have suffered in silence and their caregivers, the shift in perception offers assurance. I hope that this transition also translates into greater access to mental health treatment and, more importantly, equal access. However, as the other findings suggest, the work is only beginning. For instance, while awareness of mental illness was high, with 96% of respondents knowing at least one mental illness, it was restricted to depression, stress, and mood swings. There was little to no knowledge of conditions like schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorders, eating disorders, and childhood disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD), all of which are significant public health issues affecting large swathes of the population. Therefore, it is critical to promote education in these areas to prevent neglect, marginalization, and inadequate treatment.

Equally important is the logistical and infrastructural problem of access. While 98% mentioned that individuals with mental illness need further care, support, and treatment, respondents also noted that expensive treatment and stigma were obstacles to accessing support. Therefore, expanding the reach of and access to mental healthcare should be the focus of any discussions about policy and infrastructure. Then there is the problem of dogmatic belief, which continues to plague conversations about mental health.

Despite the increase in understanding of the factors behind mental illness, such as stress and neglect, a sizable portion of respondents also listed supernatural forces (24%) and karma (19%), more than genetic factors (17%), as potential triggers. Several respondents also said they were likely to feel sad, anxious, or scared if their friends had a mental illness, with even more intense feelings if these individuals happened to be family members. Such sentiment is not the result of intentional bias or malice but misinformation and fear of the unknown. Given the huge prevalence of mental illness and the need for collective change, we must consider making mental health an integral part of educational curriculums across the country. 

When we began our journey at LiveLoveLaugh, our country’s mental health crisis seemed insurmountable and continues to pose a mammoth challenge. But we are seeing progress. 

Through studies like these, we can observe the measurable impact of programs we have undertaken including mental health education in schools, mental health support for rural communities, training on mental disorders for general practitioners, and frontline worker counseling. This gives us both the hope and motivation to keep going. I hope these results act as a catalyst for further efforts and collaborative action that offer our country the chance to build a mental health system capable of addressing its complex needs. There is hope, and we must fight to do what we can to find, share, and strengthen it. It’s the only way to move forward. 

‘How India Perceives Mental Health’ can be downloaded here: https://www.thelivelovelaughfoundation.org/initiatives/research/mental-health-research-2021


Anisha Padukone

CEO, LiveLoveLaugh 

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