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Times of India
13 March 2010
Chennai, India

The state health department will work towards making the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in Kilpauk an autonomous body and seek to develop it as a holistic mental health institution and change its image from that of a mere asylum.

To this end, the government has decided to confer adequate powers on the IMH director and amend the strict rules that presently govern patients and visitors there. “The present system of roll calls and confinement before sunset seems to reinforce the stigma attached to mental illness. By bringing a change we would be taking the first step towards de–stigmatizing of mental health condition,” health secretary VK Subburaj said here on Friday at the regional meeting of healthcare providers in South India called by the National Human Rights Commission.

Secretaries and senior health officials from southern states and Puducherry attended the meeting to discuss strategies to upgrade mental healthcare facilities. Based on the two–year–old recommendations from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, the state government presented the status reports. Almost all states complained that there had been an acute shortage of doctors and paramedical staff to care for the mentally–challenged. Though more than 10% of the population required treatment, many were left unattended either because mental health care was inaccessible or because it was not affordable. Mental illness in India is considered a taboo – a behavioural disorder rather than a health menace. So the rate of people coming out in public and looking for medical intervention for their condition is low. National Human Rights Commmission (NHRC) secretary–general K S Money noted that there had been a huge increase in depression and suicide rates across the country. According to health ministry figures, over 900,000 women in India need treatment for mental illness.

Of these, nearly 280,000 are in the 10–29 age group and almost 250,000 in the 30–50 age group. Though women attempt to commit suicide more, men are usually more successful in their attempts.

“We have already been told that the number of post–graduate seats for psychiatry will be doubled for the upcoming academic year. We would be reducing, even if we are not completely bridging the gap,” said IMH director Dr Sathianathan.

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