Attitudes to Mental Health

By Raamesh Gowri Raghavan

A great deal of our #BeatBlueWhale campaign depends on our attitudes to mental health in general. Negligent or ignorant parents can drive teenagers to seek dangerous behaviours online or among peers, as they look for solutions to issues confronting their self-esteem, self-image, confidence and happiness. But teenagers, although an at-risk population with very high levels of risk, are not the only ones affected. Women often contemplate suicide more than men, although men tend to commit suicide a great deal more (See here, here, here and here). The last reports that 68% of suicides in India were by men. But among women, it is housewives (79% of cases) who are at risk.

Friends of the authors have reported several anecdotes of stunning news of suicides of those who seemed to be perfectly alright otherwise, and showing no signs of depression. While there may be other reasons for suicide (such a sudden financial loss, death of someone very close or to escape punishment), most cases are really due to anxiety and depression-related disorders. Ignorance, however, is rife in India.

However, anecdotal evidence is not a good guide to understanding how much the country is aware of mental health issues, or how families cope with the realisation hat one of their members may be affected. Pursuant to this, the DataIsNotJustData team* decided to carry out a massive worldwide survey, mostly centred in India but also including the USA, Canada, the UAE, the UK, Nepal etc on attitudes to mental health among various classes of people. We designed the survey, conducted both offline and online, to compare attitudes towards mental health and physical health. The survey design also included the respondents’ level of education and a worldview of health-related practices including faith healers, traditional medicinal approaches on one side and general and specialist hospitals on the other side.

The offline component included door-to-door surveys by a vary large team of student volunteers across the length and breadth of India and Nepal. The online survey is available here, and is self-filled:

Some of the results from the door-to-door survey have been interesting, once we started crunching numbers.

All cohorts (classified by educational levels) report visiting/consulting a medical practitioner for both mental and physical health issues, but interestingly, those with lower levels of education (barely literate or just passed out of school) will easier see a doctor for physical illnesses than those with higher levels. The trend nevertheless reverses with respect to mental health, as those with higher education (graduation and beyond) are more likely to seek medical help than attempt treatment at home.

Initial results from the survey. Credit: Ishan Goel, https://medium.com/@ishangoel_80223/awareness-of-mental-health-in-the-world-eeca9b472ad0

A friend of mine wrote to me (paraphrasing), “There is a dearth of GPs and affordable ones at that in our neighborhood for example. Usually people first visit a GP in such cases as mentioned in the survey. If there aren’t any, then usually people prefer home treatment to being ‘captured’ by hospitals.” So there is clearly an economic angle too, which may perhaps mask the motivation to seek medical help in case of illness. A few more interesting results are mention by Ishan Goel in his article.

We note that while a few initiatives are tackling the subject of adolescent mental health, the overall picture remains grim, with a study stating that India and China lead the world in cases of depression and anxiety. Multiple media reports have buttressed the need for mental health awareness, as also academic publications.

Coming from various backgrounds, but with a shared interest in approaching the problems of mental health awareness and teenage suicide using a data-based approach, our team decided to embark on this survey. Making it the largest is no modest goal, but such a task cannot be achieved by aiming low. We hope that this project will provide policy-makers with enough data to make informed decisions, as well as open the public’s eyes to the dangers facing our future generations.

Here’s the link to the survey, in case you skipped it the first time:

https://goo.gl/forms/ez77L7Al3HLbKohk1

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*The team working on this project consists of:

  • Mr. Ishan Goel: data scientist and computer scientist; the Chief Scientific Officer of Data Is Not Just data.
  • Mr. Ashish Kumar Singh: doctoral candidate at Higher School of Economics-The National Research University, Moscow, Russia. He holds two master degrees, one is International Social Welfare and Health Policy (from Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway) and another in Social Entrepreneurship (from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India).
  • Mr. Farooq Ali Khan: completed his masters from NIPER and has been extensively involved in health policy and drug-discovery. He was one of the coordinators of World Health Congress 2017.
  • Mr. Raamesh Gowri Raghavan: trained in behavioral biology and advertising, and he utilizes his experiences from the two worlds to take on the problem of depression disorders.
  • Dr. Sukant Khurana: Lead of this study and a neuroscientist at CDRI, with interests in drug discovery, neuroscience and the interface of art and technology. You can know more about him at his website www.brainnart.com.