China, India face huge mental health burden: studies
India and China’s disease burdens for mental, neurological and substance use disorders are greater than in all high-income countries combined, according to new studies.
China and India are home to more than one-third of human beings suffering from mental illness. However, only a small fraction of them receive medical help, according to the studies.
There are more people in the world’s two most populous nations coping with mental, neurological and substance use problems than in all high-income countries combined, the research found.
Increasing mental health burden
It is projected that the mental ill-health burden will become even heavier in the next decades, especially in India, where it is projected to increase by 25% by 2025.
Research fellow Dr. Fiona Charlson said the burden of mental illness would increase more rapidly in India than in China over the next ten years due to population growth rates.
We estimate that in 2025, 38.1 million years of healthy life will be lost to mental illness in India – a 23% increase – and 39.6 million healthy years will be lost in China – a 10% increase.”
Neither country is adequately equipped to deal with their mental health needs, according to the trio of reports, published in medical journals The Lancet and The Lancet Psychiatry to mark the launch of the China-India Mental Health Alliance.
China, meanwhile, will struggle with the rapid rise of dementia in its aging population, a by-product in part of strict birth control policies put in place more than 35 years ago.
The burden peaks between 15 years and 34 years of age in India, but in China it is much more sustained throughout adulthood and increases abruptly in people aged 60 and older.”
In China, only 6% of people coping with common mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety disorders, or with substance abuse and dementia, even seek out a doctor, researchers found. More than half of those with full-blown psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia are not diagnosed, much less cared for, he said in a statement.
In India, the percentage of the population with untended mental health problems is equally small. By contrast, treatment rates in rich nations are 70% and higher.
More spending needed
The divide between developed countries and these emerging giants is equally sharp when it comes to money spent. Less than 1% of national healthcare budgets in China and India is allocated to mental health care.
In the United States that figure is nearly 6%, while in Germany and France it rises to 10% or more.
Both India and China have recently implemented progressive policies providing for the needs of their mentally ill, but the reality on the ground has not yet caught up, the studies showed.
The treatment gaps, especially in rural areas, are very large,” Vikram Patel, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said.
It could take decades for each country’s medical systems to fill these gaps, the reports concluded. But the researchers suggest that a large cadre of traditional practitioners, including yogis in India and Chinese medicine doctors, could be trained to recognize mental health problems and help with treatment.
The current and projected burden of mental, neurological and substance use disorders in India and China warrants the urgent prioritization of programs focused on targeted prevention, early identification, and effective treatment,” according to Dr. Fiona Charlson.