A sweeping glance at some facts and figures suffices to realize the widespread extent of mental illness. It is appalling to see the epidemic rates at which mental illnesses are on the rise. In fact, it is predicted by the World Health Organization that 20% of India’s population will suffer from some form of mental illness by the year 2020. Furthermore, the consequences of undiagnosed or untreated mental disorders could be severe, influencing the physical, social functioning as well as overall health outcomes. Mental and behavioural problems are clearly recognized risk factors for morbidity and mortality. Besides, there are high rates of comorbidities with mental illnesses.

Psychological First Aid – The Way Forward

With the unprecedented increase in crime rates, corruption as well as surmounting unrest among the population, there is ample evidence to show the need to focus on promoting mental health and psychological well-being today. The fundamental steps comprising such a psychological first aid system would include educating the individuals about the timely identification of the warning signs and at-risk individual factors, enabling an initial assessment and evaluation of the risks to self (or others), as well as educating one and all about the adequate time as well as the route of referrals for professional help.

Building a Preventive Approach: The need of the hour is to strongly advocate the preventive as well as curative aspects of mental health. We all should come together to work towards targeting the very grass-root levels, and help make a difference in the community at large. The biggest achievement towards such a goal would be to ensure widespread awareness about mental illnesses amongst the general population, to be able to overcome the reluctance associated with mental health and thereby encourage reporting as well as seeking help.

Training and Education: At the same time, we need to promote an adequate training and empowerment to ensure the timely identification as well as adequate interventions for mental illnesses across the cross section of the society. And this should not be restricted to parents, teachers, social workers, staff and all those first-line workers, though their role is vital as they are actively engaging with children and adolescents, who shall form the future of our country. However, such an empowerment is necessary for all of us to be able to contribute towards the vision of improving the mental health of the entire nation at large.

Role of Schools: The responsibility of moulding the future of mental health in India lies in the nurturing of the country’s youth. Schools and colleges have enormous opportunities to bring about a change in the future of the field of mental health. As they bear the responsibility of fostering the growth and development of the young minds, they should encourage emotional awareness and regulation, adaptive coping and problem solving skills including conflict resolution. As the children and adolescents spend most of their waking hours at schools and colleges, both families as well as academic institutions should create an open and positive environment at both home and school through building of rapport and trusting relationship with the youngsters. At a cross-sectional level, school wide policies for bullying, suicide prevention, etc. need to be implemented universally, while establishing a student assistance/helpline program for crises interventions.

Encouraging Help Seeking: Furthermore, we all individually need to assume responsibility for spreading awareness about accessibility as well as referrals to appropriate professional help of counsellors and psychiatrists. Such universal accountability is essential to help build individuals’ resilience and capacities for self-help, while increasing community awareness and responsible reporting by the media.