In a country like India, where 1 in 4 people are living with mental health concerns, access to mental health services becomes a substantial concern. Moreover, taking into consideration the fact that 269 million people in India live below the poverty line, the agenda of ensuring that everyone receives adequate clinical and therapeutic intervention becomes especially salient (Daily Mail, 2017). Given that poverty has a strong link with mental illness, the mental health needs of the impoverished become even more pressing (Elliott, 2016).
While there are no programs in place specifically for the mental health needs of the economically weaker sections, the Government of India has implemented the National Mental Health Program. This program recognises the tremendous economic burden of mental disorders in this country and also recognises the lack of qualified mental health professionals. Thus, the program aims to ensure the availability and accessibility of the most essential mental healthcare services for all.
More recently, the Mental Health Care Act of 2017 was passed, in which it was decreed that mental and physical illnesses would be treated on par with each other, and that insurance providers would be mandated to cover costs for treatment of mental illness, which will undoubtedly provide relief to those belonging to lower SES households. Recently launched government initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat insurance scheme include treatment of mental disorders including psychoactive substance use in its coverage. Certain state governments have also launched healthcare schemes that include coverage of psychiatric conditions, like the Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojna of Odisha (Singh, 2019) .
With regard to the non-profit sector, there are several NGO’s working in the area of mental health. However, most of their activities are largely focussed on prevention, awareness and advocacy. Additionally, while many organisations do provide screenings for mental illness, they usually do not go beyond providing referral services or subsidised treatment. Yet there are some notable exceptions that do provide for the treatment of the lesser privileged in society. For instance, some NGO’s like Sanjivini Society in Delhi provide free counselling and confidential services to all those in need. Moreover, some NGO’s have done exceptional work in providing for the section of the population that doesn't even have access to something as basic as a place to live. The Banyan in Chennai, for example, has a shelter for Homeless men with Psychosocial needs, providing them with a place to live as well as rehabilitation.
To conclude, while some inroads are definitely being made for the provision of mental health serviced to the financially weaker sections of society, there is still a long way to go.
Daily Mail Reporter. (2017). Centre claims poverty has dropped to 21.9 per cent... but its measure is controversial at best. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2375307/Centre-claims-poverty-dropped-21-9-cent--measure-controversial-best.html
Elliott, I. (June 2016) Poverty and Mental Health: A review to inform the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Anti-Poverty Strategy. London: Mental Health Foundation.
Sanjivini Society for Mental Health. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://sanjivinisociety.org/.
Singh OP. (2019) Insurance for mental illness: Government schemes must show the way. Indian J Psychiatry;61:113-4.
The Banyan: Mental Health NGO. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://thebanyan.org/.