Kolkata: With depression emerging as one of the major global illnesses, the World Health Organization has stressed on the need for strong human rights policies as well as conversations on mental health to address the associated stigma.
The global body observed World Health Day Friday with the theme of 'Depression: Let's talk'.
"Talking with people you trust helps break down stigma and is the first step towards recovery from depression. It is important to reach out to friends and family and encourage them to seek help," Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO Representative to India told PTI.
"Strong human rights policies are essential for addressing stigma associated with the disease. The Mental Health Care Bill 2016 has a great potential in this direction. The Bill helps break the stigma attached to mental illness, and empowers people living with mental illness. Community outreach is one of the effective tools in creating desired awareness," he said.
The WHO official also suggested that there should be awareness sessions on depression in educational institutions and workplaces to address vulnerable populace.
"Such initiatives will be helpful in touching lives of the young. Teachers and motivated youth can act as effective gatekeepers.
"Similarly, life skills training for students helps in building greater resilience and improving mental well-being. Mandatory physical activity sessions, including sports and yoga can help prevent depression in school children," he said.
Bekedam said the country has fewer than 4,000 psychiatrists -- 0.3 per 100,000 population -- and most of them practise in urban areas.
To address this treatment gap, he said the country's National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) is training non-specialist cadres of health workforce to manage common mental health disorders, including depression.
To reach out to rural populations, the NMHP aims to provide quality healthcare at the primary health care level.
He said the District Mental Health Program is being upscaled to cover the entire country in a phased manner.
Bekedam also welcomed the government prioritising mental health in the National Health Policy 2017, and praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for speaking on managing depression in his radio address 'Mann Ki Baat'.
"I would like to flag three recent developments that augur well for India. First, the government prioritizing mental health services as a component of addressing noncommunicable diseases.
"PM Narendra Modi speaking at length on how to prevent and manage depression in his monthly radio broadcast Mann Ki Baat and then the passage of the Mental Health Care Bill by the Parliament. This reflects political commitment at the highest level to effectively address mental health issues," Bekedam said.
The National Mental Health Care Bill, recently passed by the Parliament, will go a long way in ensuring that those attempting suicide will get treatment, rather than being harassed by the legal system, he said.
Asked how the number of suicide cases could be arrested in the country, Bekedam suggested that it could be worthwile to identify linkages with other national programs like adolescent health, trauma care, drug de-addiction, tobacco control elderly care and palliative care.