Meet the Expert : Dr. Vikram Patel

Not long ago, Dr. Vikram Patel, psychiatrist, featured in Time magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. That is just one feather in his cap; rest of the list is exhaustive. Dr Patel, co-founder of the Goa-based mental health research NGO, Sangath, and the Centre for Global Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine where he is professor, featured is co-Director of the Centre for the Control of Chronic Conditions at Public Health Foundation of India. Curofy caught up with him at his swanky Delhi office for a tête-à-tête.

Your Interest has been global mental health. Has India been a priority?

Yes, India has been my priority right from the beginning. Over the past 20 years I have lived and worked in India and everything I do is guided by the local context but clearly the science has global significance.

Have you identified any problem area in Indian mental health delivery system? If any, what are they?

I think the most important deficiencies are the lack of any public health model in how India’s mental health care system is organised. Linked to that is the idea that mental health care is equivalent to psychiatric care whereas we know that a significant proportion of mental health care does not either need medicines or a medical approach, and the lack of active engagement of the community in mental health care initiatives.

How can these be addressed?

Quite simply, by implementing a public health approach to mental health care. India had tremendous success in addressing one of the other major public health problems of our times — HIV/AIDS. One can learn from the lesson of HIV/AIDS, a program which has successfully addressed stigma and discrimination, and which has successfully empowered people living with HIV in vulnerable communities and which has successfully delivered a range of both medical and non-medical interventions for what is effectively a lifelong condition; and I think many mental health problems can share many of these characteristics with HIV/AIDS and the principles that made the HIV/AIDS program work should be equally applicable to the mental health program.

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Originally published at blog.curofy.com on October 26, 2015.