Mental Health Awareness and Stigma in India: Breaking the Barriers

Mental Health Awareness And Stigma In India: Breaking The Barriers
Mental Health Awareness and Stigma in India: Breaking the Barriers

Mental health is an integral part of overall well-being, yet the battle against misconceptions and stigma related to mental health is one of the biggest issues, particularly in India. This stigma prevents people from seeking help and perpetuates harmful stereotypes that hinder progress in mental health care. This article explores the factors contributing to the stigma surrounding mental health issues in India and discusses the need for increased mental health awareness and education to break down these barriers.

What is Mental Health?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness, but also includes the ability to think, feel, and act in ways that allow us to enjoy life, handle stress, and form meaningful relationships with others.

Factors Contributing to Stigma

Mental health stigma continues to be a major challenge in India. India became one of the key member countries to establish its National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in 1982 following the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations to provide mental health services within the framework of general healthcare in the community. The program has achieved partial success in increasing its outreach to the community; Many individuals face discrimination and shame for seeking help for mental health issues. Many factors contribute to the persistence of mental health stigma in India. By thoroughly understanding these factors, we can attempt to develop effective strategies that reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and promote greater acceptance, understanding, and support for those with mental health problems.

Myth, Beliefs and Misconceptions

In India, mental health issues are often misunderstood as a sign of weakness or character flaw. Many people hold Misconceptions about the causes of mental illness, such as bad parenting, air pollution, loss of semen, poor diet, past sins, curses from God, and the evil eye. Unfortunately, these myths prevent many people from accepting the medical reasons for mental health conditions.

One study found that many people believe in the power of prayer or pooja or hawan to reduce the negative effects, and that tantriks/ojhas can remove ghosts. Unfortunately, these beliefs exist across society and can discourage individuals from seeking psychiatric help when experiencing abnormal behaviors. Negative attitudes towards psychiatry and psychiatrists are also a deterrent for some, especially those from rural areas, think that psychiatrists are eccentric and unhelpful.

Family and Social Expectations

Indian society places great emphasis on family honor and reputation. Mental health issues may be seen as bringing shame or disgrace to the family, resulting in a reluctance to seek help. Families may face social consequences as well, such as feeling emotionally overwhelmed while taking care of disabled family members, lower quality of life for caregivers, being excluded by society, stigmatization, and missing out on future opportunities for personal growth. A study found that 36.9% of rural participants, 43.2% of urban participants, and 44.7% of medical professionals would object to marrying someone who has recovered from a mental illness. This lack of understanding leads to a culture of silence and denial, with people reluctant to acknowledge or discuss their mental health problems.

Lack of Mental Health Literacy

The term health literacy refers to a distinct set of cognitive and social abilities that are linked to making informed decisions about health, such as utilizing health services effectively, adopting healthy habits, or actively engaging in efforts to address the underlying social factors that impact health.

A general lack of knowledge and awareness about mental health issues contributes to the stigma. Misconceptions and myths about mental illness persist, leading people to judge and discriminate against those with mental health issues. One study found mental health literacy among adolescents to be very low, i.e. depression was identified by 29.04% and schizophrenia/psychosis was recognized only by 1.31%.

Insufficient Mental Health Professional

The limited availability of mental health professionals and services in India exacerbates the problem. India’s National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 found that around 150 million individuals in the country require both short and long-term mental health care interventions. Despite this significant number, mental health has been severely overlooked in India. The number of psychiatrists in India is currently at 0.75 per 100,000 people, which falls short of the desirable rate of 3 or more psychiatrists per 100,000 people. In comparison, high-income countries have an average of 6 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. With a low ratio of mental health professionals to the population, people often struggle to access appropriate care, reinforcing that mental health issues are not a priority.

Mental Health Awareness And Stigma In India: Breaking The Barriers
Mental Health Awareness And Stigma In India: Breaking The Barriers

Roadmap for Mental Health Awareness

Even though India has made a lot of progress in recent years, there is still a huge lack of education and awareness about mental health issues. This has led to a pervasive culture of stigma and discrimination, with many individuals suffering in silence and avoiding seeking help for mental health challenges. There is a need for increased education and awareness of mental health issues in India to address this problem. By promoting a greater understanding of mental health and reducing its stigma, we can help individuals feel more comfortable seeking help and accessing the care they need.

Provide Education About Mental Health Conditions

The onset of many chronic and debilitating mental illnesses occurs before the age of 24, a time when most individuals are part of the educational system. As such, the educational system offers various opportunities to improve mental health awareness by incorporating mental health narratives in curricula. By doing so, it can help to reduce stigma, eliminate discrimination and promote early detection of mental health issues.

Raise Awareness Through Open Dialogue and Campaigns

Encouraging open dialogue through public awareness campaigns is crucial in breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in India. Such campaigns should focus on dispelling myths, educating the public about the causes and symptoms of mental illness, and promoting empathy and understanding for those affected. By normalizing conversations about mental health, individuals may be more likely to seek help when needed, and the discrimination against those with mental health conditions can be reduced. Community initiatives, workplace programs, and school-based mental health education are all effective means of promoting open conversations about mental health.

Integrating Mental Health Into the Healthcare System

Mental health care should be integrated into the existing healthcare system, ensuring that mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health. It is crucial to prioritize the integration of mental health services into primary care and community health centers to improve access to care. Integrating mental health into the healthcare system in India requires a multi-faceted approach that involves collaboration between policymakers, healthcare professionals, and community leaders.

Training Mental Health Professionals

Investing in the training of mental health professionals will not only improve the quality of care but also contribute to reducing stigma. As part of the National Mental Health Program (NMHP), the District Mental Health Program (DMHP) was introduced in 1996. One of the program’s goals is to provide short-term training to general physicians to diagnose and treat common mental health conditions using a limited number of medications under the guidance of specialists. A greater number of professionals and health workers will lead to increased visibility and accessibility of mental health services, normalizing the idea of seeking help.

Enhancing Mental Health through ASHA

The Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) program presents a significant opportunity to improve mental health services in India. ASHA workers can play a pivotal role in supporting communities to access treatments, reducing the burden on the healthcare system, and improving outcomes for individuals with mental health conditions. This can be achieved by providing them with adequate training, appropriate supervision, and necessary resources. Additionally, ASHAs possess in-depth knowledge about their respective villages and can use this knowledge to promote mental health awareness and connect individuals with available resources.

ASHAs can also facilitate community participation in health programs by conducting health education sessions and awareness campaigns, which can help to reduce stigma around mental health and encourage individuals to seek help when needed.

Frequently Asked Question

How does the stigma around mental health impact individuals in India?

The stigma around mental health can have a significant impact on individuals in India, including feelings of shame, isolation, and fear of discrimination or judgement. Many individuals may not seek help for mental health issues due to the fear of being labeled as “crazy” or “weak”, leading to a lack of access to proper treatment and support.

What are some common misconceptions about mental health in India?

How can we work to reduce the stigma around mental health in India?

What steps are being taken by the Indian government to improve mental health care and awareness?

What is the impact of mental health stigma on marginalized communities in India?


The stigma surrounding mental health issues in India is deeply ingrained in society, and it is crucial to address this issue through increased awareness, education, and resources. By challenging misconceptions, encouraging open dialogue, and investing in mental health services, India can work towards breaking the barriers and creating a more supportive environment for those affected by mental health issues. Ultimately, this will not only improve individual well-being but also contribute to a healthier and more empathetic society.


  1. Srivastava K, Chatterjee K, Bhat PS. Mental health awareness: The Indian scenario. Ind Psychiatry J. 2016 Jul-Dec;25(2):131-134. doi: 10.4103/ipj.ipj_45_17. PMID: 28659690; PMCID: PMC5479084.
  2. Gupta S, Sagar R. National Mental Health Programme-Optimism and Caution: A Narrative Review. Indian J Psychol Med. 2018 Nov-Dec;40(6):509-516. doi: 10.4103/IJPSYM.IJPSYM_191_18. PMID: 30533946; PMCID: PMC6241184.
  3. Kishore J, Gupta A, Jiloha RC, Bantman P. Myths, beliefs and perceptions about mental disorders and health-seeking behavior in Delhi, India. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011 Oct;53(4):324-9. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.91906. PMID: 22303041; PMCID: PMC3267344.
  4. Don Nutbeam, Ilona Kickbusch, Advancing health literacy: a global challenge for the 21st century, Health Promotion International, Volume 15, Issue 3, September 2000, Pages 183–184,
  5. Garg K, Kumar CN, Chandra PS. Number of psychiatrists in India: Baby steps forward, but a long way to go. Indian J Psychiatry. 2019 Jan-Feb;61(1):104-105. doi: 10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_7_18. PMID: 30745666; PMCID: PMC6341936.
  6. Srivastava K, Chatterjee K, Bhat PS. Mental health awareness: The Indian scenario. Ind Psychiatry J. 2016 Jul-Dec;25(2):131-134. doi: 10.4103/ipj.ipj_45_17. PMID: 28659690; PMCID: PMC5479084.
  7. Rahul P, Chander KR, Murugesan M, Anjappa AA, Parthasarathy R, Manjunatha N, Kumar CN, Math SB. Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) and Her Role in District Mental Health Program: Learnings from the COVID 19 Pandemic. Community Ment Health J. 2021 Apr;57(3):442-445. doi: 10.1007/s10597-021-00773-1. Epub 2021 Jan 16. PMID: 33452947; PMCID: PMC7811346.