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Integrating mental health in primary health care

26 Sep 2016

Primary health care is defined as “health care provided in the community for people making an initial approach to a medical practitioner or clinic for advice or treatment”.

It can be understood as the essential health care that is to be provided to people in the community in close proximity to their places of work and living. Decentralized and catering to the needs of the population it is serving, primary health care is indispensable.

On the other hand, mental health care is ensuring psychological well-being. It refers to caring such that there is an absence of any mental illness.

Integrating mental health care with primary health care is the need of the hour. Let us see why!

First and foremost, the people who seek primary health care form a large group of persons who are suffering from mental disorders too. About 20 per cent of the people who go for primary health care have been identified as suffering from mental disorders as well.

In the above situation, if primary health care does not take account of mental health care, there could be abysmal consequences. In cases when the person suffers from a mental disorder and approaches primary health care, and the disorder is not diagnosed properly, the illness could intensify or worsen. Moreover, unsuitable and non-specific treatments in such circumstances result in wastage of resources and are effort down the drain.

Enough said about the repercussions in the situation where mental health is not a part of primary health care. The advantages of having the same are many, as following.

The integration leads to a far-reaching change in the way people seek mental health care. The stigma around it gets reduced to a large extent, as primary health services are not related to any specific ailment. As a result, the accessibility (both physical and financial) and acceptability by the users increases.

If handled well at the primary level itself, most of these people can be cured then and there. Also, many people have mental health issues comorbid with physical health ailments. In such cases too, the staff trained for mental disorders can take care of them as well as those with only mental issues.

This approach prevents a lot of people from getting into psychiatric hospitals, which are often not suitable for patients with less severe problems and have recorded numerous cases of Human Rights violation. In addition to this, since the patients are not treated far from their homes, the social integration is a major benefit. Neither the patients nor their families have to face any discrimination or  judgemental outlook of the society. This, in turn, leads to better chances at recovery.

Moreover, this approach is cost-effective as well.  It also serves as an answer to shortage of resources (human or capital) for mental health care in our country.

Therefore, integration of mental health care with primary health care is indeed the solution to address a whole lot of issues in mental health care, and is the utilitarian approach. The outcomes of this integration would prove to undoubtedly laudable. 


Tags: Mental Health, Primary Health Care