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Why shortage of mental health professionals in India?

23 Oct 2016

A severe shortage of mental health professionals is something our country has been facing for long and the crisis continues.

According to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the requirement of psychiatrists in the country is 11,500 as opposed to 3,500 available presently. Moreover, the number of mental health professionals required is 54,750 but we only have 7,000. This is including clinical psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers and psychiatric nurses. In the case of clinical psychologists, the cunt is 500 against the requisite of 17,250. Similarly, 400 psychiatric social workers are available where the estimated need is of 23,000.

According to Dr. Rajesh Sagar, Associate Professor of psychiatry at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, there is only one psychiatrist for four lakh people of India.

Being aware of the present condition of acute shortage of professionals in the metal health sector, we should try to find the reason behind this gap.

There are, in fact, multiple reasons for this. First and foremost, like in the other medical fields, there is brain drain. Dr. Mathew Varghese, professor and head of psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences NIMHANS, claims that India has lesser number of Indian psychiatrists than the US and the UK.

In the colleges and training hospitals, the seats for psychology and the likes are few and even then, they are the last ones to be filled. Many of the seats go vacant and are never taken. Most of the hospitals that provide masters in psychiatry go through the same situation as extremely few people are willing to study the subject.

Moreover, during the MBBS course of four and a half years, clinical postings for psychiatry comprise of just two weeks. To add to it, becoming an expert in the field of psychiatry requires at least five years and even more.

Thus, merely increasing the number of seats for mental health courses won’t solve the issue. Given that the seats often go vacant, it might help to find out the cause of the same.

For psychologists, poor salary and absence of any licensing authorities are prime reasons for people not choosing this as a career option. Compared to western countries where mental health professionals are one of the highest paid professionals in healthcare, Indian psychologists get ordinary or meager salaries; one of the reasons for brain drain. There are not enough attractive jobs in the field. Lack of licensing also does the damage. We only have licensing of clinical psychologists and rehabilitation psychologists in India, creating confusion and disorganization.

Another reason is the lack of awareness. People choose to follow the trend in career options and are rather unwilling to experiment or follow their heart. As a result, they end up becoming what they see others doing. So considering the low number of mental health professionals in India, they do not go for it and hence it becomes a vicious circle.

Also, the number of people opting for such career options is few because the number of people going for mental health treatment is also low.

This is mainly because of the stigma attached to it, and mental health being a taboo even in urban India. Since most of the medical care (about 80 per cent) for mental health is provided by the private sector and is therefore expensive, the persons seeking help are less in number.

This shortage of mental health professions is indeed affecting the mental health scenario of our country, adversely and acutely. There is an immense need to bridge the gap between the demand and supply and only then can we expect our mental health care to rise to effectiveness.

Date Source: A NHRC 2012 publication,

Tags: Mental Health, Psychologists, Psychiatrists