Scientists & Policymakers from U.S., India, & South Asia Gather to Discuss Mental Healthcare

Mental healthcare is recognized as one of the world’s major public health challenges. Spurring bilateral efforts on this issue, prominent Indian and U.S. policymakers, researchers, practitioners, and civil society representatives convened today for “Transforming Mental Healthcare in India” at the American Center in New Delhi, where they discussed how to most effectively implement and scale-up research findings, and how to best build a roadmap for the future of mental healthcare.

Dr. Joshua Gordon, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the lead U.S. agency funding mental health research, explained his organization’s approach: “NIMH’s global research agenda spans a range of timeframes for potential public health impact. The near-term research can inform how best to scale up and sustain effective mental health care in low-resource settings. In the medium-term, we seek to expand the capacity for scientists in low-resource settings to conduct locally-relevant mental health research. Long term, we strive to achieve a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying psychiatric disorders across diverse global populations, to ensure that our research has maximal impact for all.”

Speakers at the event, which took place on the sidelines of a global meeting focused on establishing research partnerships for scaling up mental health interventions in low- and middle-income countries, highlighted India’s efforts to address mental health. In particular, they applauded the increasing prevalence of early dialogue between researchers and policymakers, which ensures the latest research is implemented effectively.

Ms. Preeti Sudan, Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, during her special address, said, “I firmly believe that there could be no health without mental health.” She also noted the replacement of the 1987 Mental Health Act with the more progressive and egalitarian 2017 version, which she said created a stronger and more robust legal scaffold as well as a humane, patient-centric, and rights-based paradigm for mental healthcare in India.

“It upholds, among other rights, the right to access mental healthcare, right to community living, right to equality, right to confidentiality, and right to legal aid for person with mental illness,” she added. “It thus empowers individuals, giving them more autonomy and decision making power.”

Leading mental health experts Dr. Vikram Patel of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Soumitra Pathare from the Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy echoed the significance of the new legislation, saying, “This event is an opportunity for policymakers, implementers, and advocates to discuss how to work together to realize the vision of the 2014 National Mental Health Policy and 2017 National the Mental Health Care Act Bill.”

The event was organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Embassy’s American Center in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) of the U.S. National Institutes of Health; Sangath; the Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy (CMHLP) of the Indian Law Society, Pune; PRIME Consortium; and the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School.

The 2016 National Mental Health Survey estimated that nearly 15 percent of Indian adults are in need of active intervention for one or more mental health issues. In the United States, one in five adults lives with a mental illness, and the current opioid epidemic has reemphasized the pivotal role of mental healthcare to treating drug addiction.

“Mental Health will be one of the focus areas of discussion at the next U.S.-India Health Dialogue,” said HHS Health Attaché to India Dr. Preetha Rajaraman. “We are also keen to formalize the Memorandum of Understanding on Mental Health between HHS and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, which calls for increased collaboration in areas such as depression, dementia, and suicide prevention; research into the health benefits of traditional Indian medicine, including yoga; sharing best practices; strengthening regulatory frameworks; and building human resource capacity.”

About Sangath

Sangath, established in 1996, is one of India’s leading mental health research NGOs. Starting out 20 years ago as Goa’s first multidisciplinary child development clinic, Sangath is now conducting work across India with a view to developing packages of care for community delivery for a range of mental health conditions. Its work has been cited as having led to “innovative research of relevance to public health in developing countries” for which it was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation International Prize for Creative & Effective Institutions in 2008 and the WHO Public Health Champions of India award in 2016.

About Centre for Mental Health Law & Policy and Indian Law Society

Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy of the Indian Law Society, Pune (ILS) is a research and policy centre focussed on mental health. The Centre’s expertise ranges from conducting implementation research on community mental health interventions, scaling up participatory and rights-based approaches to mental healthcare and adopting multi-sectoral approaches to public mental health interventions. The Centre works with State governments in Gujarat, Chattisgarh & Maharashtra and provided technical support to the Government of India in drafting the National Mental Health Policy, 2014 and Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.

About U.S. National Institute of Mental Health

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is the lead U.S. agency funding mental health research with a mission to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure. NIMH is one of the 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

About U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The mission of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) is to enhance and protect the health and well-being of all Americans. HHS fulfills that mission by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services. The Office of the Secretary, including the Office of Global Affairs, Operating Divisions, and Regional Offices administer HHS programs.

About American Center

The New Delhi American Center supports the U.S. Embassy’s mission to promote mutual understanding between the people of India and the United States. It is open to the public, free of charge, and offers an array of public programs at the Center, as well as research-oriented m aterials, services, and Wi-Fi through the New Delhi American Center Library.