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Union Budget 2023-24: More Investment Needed On Mental Health Services, Say Experts

For the Union Budget 2023, the experts from the wellness sector expect for more governmental support to deal with mental health issues

Several reports by mental health organisations, noted that the number of people suffering from mental health problems is increasing in India. Well, when we talk about mental health, it is an issue that is very critical but mostly ignored or stigmatised.

As eyes are on the Union Budget 2023-24 being presented on February 1, what could be expected in the aspect of mental health? Despite the rising number of suicides and other mental health problems that are prevalent in the country, relatively little had been allocated for it in the last union budget.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman addressed mental health issues in her February 2022 budget speech. However, less than 1 per cent of the Rs 7,393.18 crore expenditure budget of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) was allocated directly to mental health.

Rs 670 crore was allocated for mental health in the previous financial year, which is only 0.8 per cent of the total health budget. Of the Rs 670 crore, about Rs 630 crore had been allocated for the operations of NIMHANS in Bangalore (Rs 560 crore) and LGBRI in Tezpur (Rs 700 crore).

The Finance Minister also spoke about the establishment of a nationwide tele mental health programme, which sees the establishment of 23 tele-mental health centres.

About 94 per cent of the total mental health budget was allocated to its two organisations, NIMHANS and Lokpriya Gopinath Bordroy Regional Mental Health Institute. The rest of the money goes to the National Mental Health Program (NMHP), which is responsible for providing 90 per cent of mental health services nationwide.

However, Dr Jyoti Kapoor, founder and director, Manasthali Wellness said, "It's an extremely commendable step taken by the government for taking cognisance of mental health issues in every budget session from the last couple of years. It indicates a gradual transition in the Indian health ecosystem from the traditional focus on physical health to mental health. But, one of the major expectations is a proportional increase in the budget allocation for mental health programs."

"From the last couple of years, the total budget allocation towards the National mental health programme (NMHP) has remained unchanged at Rs 40 crore. Besides the apex institutes like AIIMS, NIMHANS and PGI, a more balanced budget should be allocated to peripheral centres and medical colleges for the better management of the complexity and diversity of mental health needs," she said.

The government of India had launched the National Tele Mental Health Programme (Tele MANAS) on 10th October 2022 to provide access to mental health care services to all through a centralised toll-free helpline (14416 or 1800-891-4416).

While Dr Sanjay Pandey, Head, Department of Neurology, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad has put the fact that telemedicine can be one of the important tools regarding mental care. He said, "Following the covid-19 epidemic, we have realised the importance of good mental health. Anxiety, depression, and neurological illnesses have increased in alarming proportion over the last decade. More urbanisation, the disintegration of joint families, and increased work pressure have significantly contributed to this."

Pandey added that the health infrastructure of our country should be improved to meet this eminent crisis related to mental and neurological disorders. There should be more focus on developing institutes that can train healthcare providers for disorders related to mental health.

He said, "Telemedicine can be an important tool for reaching out to the vulnerable population and affected patients."



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