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‘Suicide will soon become India’s number 1 killer’: Vikram Patel



LONDON: India’s foremost mental health expert who spends most of his time between Goa and London has now been named as among TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.

Professor Vikram Patel, who has done seminal research on suicides in India hopes that his presence in the list makes the Indian government wake up to the serious shortage of programmes and experts meant specially to deal with mental health problems.

Speaking to TOI from Montreal, professor Patel who teaches at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in UK and heads an organisation called Sangath in Goa said “the vast majority of people with mental disorders do not receive care which can greatly improve the quality of their lives. The treatment gap exceeds 90% for community based psychosocial interventions”.

He added ” hope very much that this recognition will increase the attention that the world’s governments and donors afford to mental health, not just in India where issues like suicide, alcohol abuse, depression, autism and schizophrenia are almost entirely ignored by public health systems leading to enormous unmet needs and human rights abuses”.

On being asked whether he thought the government of India was doing enough for mental health problems in India, Patel told TOI “Nowhere near the need, witness the complete absence of public health approach to suicide for example”.
An earlier research by professor Patel on suicides in India had thrown up shocking findings. Four of India’s southern states — Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnakata and Kerala — that together constitute 22% of the country’s population were found to have recorded 42% of suicide deaths in men and 40% of self-inflicted fatalities in women in 2010. Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnakata and Kerala — that together constitute 22% of the country’s population were found to have recorded 42% of suicide deaths in men and 40% of self-inflicted fatalities in women in 2010.

Maharashtra and West Bengal together accounted for an additional 15% of suicide deaths. Delhi recorded the lowest suicide rate in the country. In absolute numbers, the most suicide deaths in individuals, aged 15 years or older, were found to be in AP (28,000), Tamil Nadu (24,000) and Maharashtra (19,000).

This was the first national study of deaths in India which was published in the British Medical journal The Lancet.

Patel said suicide has become the second-leading cause of death among the young in India. Of the total deaths by suicide in individuals aged 15 years or older, about 40% suicide deaths in men and about 56% in women occurred in individuals aged 15-29 years. Suicide deaths occurred at younger ages in women (average age 25 years) than in men (average age 34 years). Educated persons were at greater risk of completing a suicide. The risk of completing a suicide was 43% higher in men, who finished secondary or higher education, in comparison to those who had not completed primary education. Among women, the risk increased to 90%.

So what is professor Patel who is also from the Centre for Chronic Conditions and Injuries, Public Health Foundation of India, working on now?

He told TO “I am working in five major areas – developing psychological treatments which can be delivered by community health workers, working in rural communities to increase awareness about and strengthen community responses to mental health problems, working with colleagues in cardiology and diabetes to develop integrated approaches for the care of chronic conditions, working with neuroscientists and computer engineers to develop novel diagnostic tools for brain disorders and working with government departments of health to scale up evidence based interventions for mental disorders through the district mental health programme”.

The TIME 100 list describes Prof Patel as a “well-being warrior” and includes a tribute from Dr Barbara Van Dahlen, a psychologist and the founder of Give an Hour, a network of volunteer mental-health professionals, as well as the Campaign to Change Direction. She writes “It is hard to imagine a more difficult challenge than addressing the unmet needs of those from resource-poor countries who live with and suffer from mental-health disorders. And yet Vikram Patel has spent his career doing just that. He is a gifted psychiatrist, a dedicated researcher, a successful author of books and academic papers, and he is an effective communicator. In fact, he seems to have an unending supply of these critical skills. And as a co-founder of the NGO Sangath and the Centre for Global Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, he helps spread the simple yet profound idea of mental health for all. He provides hope that mental illness and trauma make us neither weak nor unworthy of love and respect”.

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