The World Health Organization (WHO) crisply underlines the enjoyment of the highest standard of health as a Fundamental Right of every human being. Health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Therefore, in order to improve Health as a whole, improving Mental Health is crucial.
A number of studies have revealed that individuals' poorer health status can directly be linked to their race, ethnicity, and caste amongst other things across the world. Studies also reveal that any kind of discrimination rooted in social, including caste or religious origin affects people's health in at least three distinct ways:
(a) health status, (b) access to healthcare, and (c) in quality of health services.
Mental Health is described as an appropriate balance between the individual, his social group, and the larger environment. These three components combine to promote psychological and social harmony, a sense of well-being, self-actualization, and environmental mastery.
Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, caste, gender, religion or any other social identity. However, background and social identity can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult (Bebe Moore Campbell, 2001).
Many minority communities face issues related to cultural stigma, less access to healthcare and poor-quality treatment. Additionally, many minority communities are also subjected to discrimination, violence and biases that act as systematic mechanisms that prevent people from getting the help, they need which takes to a heavy toll on their mental health.
According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2018), Multicultural and other minority beneficiaries on average report worse mental health functioning and more symptoms of depression when compared to white people. Individuals identifying as multi ethnic were the minority most likely to report poor mental health and to be physically unable to participate in daily activities due to mental health concerns. In the Indian context, where social diversity, stratification, reservations, social mobility, deprivation, discrimination prejudice, rejection and socio-technological change are operating in such a complex manner, mental health assumes great significance.
A survey (Hidden Apartheid, 2007) on untouchability in rural India found that Dalits in over 21% of villages were restricted from entering private medical care centers. Dalit women in parts of Uttar Pradesh were barred from receiving healthcare during pregnancy. When basic medical provisions are being denied on grounds of religion and caste stigma, concerns for mental health sounds far-fetched. To expect adequate mental healthcare for sexual minorities seems even more of a stretch.
The National Mental Health Policy (2014) represents a more holistic and integrated approach towards mental health program in India. It establishes the value that mental health services should be sensitive and relevant to diverse social and cultural situations and groups. The needs of vulnerable and excluded members of the community should receive particular attention. Marginalization and social exclusion are one of the major determinants of poor mental health. Marginalized groups, according to the policy shall include sexual minorities, children, and others.
While minorities in India are still fighting for basic human rights, access to non-stigmatized mental health care has become a very significant part of social justice. NGOs and community collectives working on feminist, LGBTQIA or caste issues can advocate with mental health professionals to generate flexibility and open-mindedness. In conjunction, Indian therapists must learn to work non-judgmentally with clients whose social, cultural, political, sexual and religious views may diverge widely from their own. Knowledge, sensitivity and a rational attitude towards the client’s personal issues and identity are essentials in this process.
- India: ‘Hidden Apartheid’ of Discrimination Against Dalits (2007). Retrieved from: https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/02/13/india-hidden-apartheid-discrimination-against-dalits
- Mental Health By The Numbers: National Alliance on Mental Illness (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.nami.org/mhstats
- Centre for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.cms.gov/