The Dalai Lama once said, “The greatest wealth is mental health“. It means that having good mental health is more valuable than material wealth because it leads to happiness, a better quality of life, and a reduction in suffering. Every year since 1992, the 10th of October marks the observance of World Mental Health Day. It is an international day for mental health education, awareness, and advocacy against social stigma. The World Health Organization (WHO) has included the protection of mental health under the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG-3) as a target to be fulfilled by the year 2030. In its efforts to address the shortage of a mental healthcare system, Bharat has also witnessed various noteworthy initiatives. . On the occasion of this day let’s discuss the role of Ayushman Bharat in expanding mental health coverage in Bharat.
The Government of Bharat has launched several mental health schemes such as the National Mental Health Program (NMHP), Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK), District Mental Health Program (DMHP), Manas, and National Tele Mental Health Program etc. In addition to the above, the Government is also taking steps to boost healthcare services at the primary healthcare level. Mental health services have been added to the package of services under Comprehensive Primary Health Care under the Ayushman Bharat – Health and Wellness Centre (HWC) Scheme. The primary aim of the Ayushman Bharat program is to achieve universal health coverage. National Health Policy 2017 envisages the establishment of a HWC to provide comprehensive primary health care that is universal, free, and closer to the community. Operational guidelines on Mental, Neurological, and substance use disorders (MNS) at HWC have been released under the ambit of Ayushman Bharat. About 150,000 HWCs have been operationalized as of January 2023, as per government data. In addition to that, Ayushman Bharat has the potential to play a significant role in expanding mental health coverage in the country.
Ayushman Bharat provides financial protection to vulnerable people by offering health insurance coverage. This also extends to mental health conditions, ensuring that individuals do not face financial burdens when seeking treatment for mental illnesses. Under the Ayushman Bharat program, mental health services have been included as a necessary part of healthcare. This means that individuals can access mental health care with physical health services, reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. The program promotes the integration of mental health services into primary healthcare. This is important because many mental health issues can be effectively addressed at the primary care level, making services more affordable to a broader population. The program has also promoted telemedicine services, including telepsychiatry, which has become exceptionally important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine makes mental health consultations more accessible, even in remote areas.
However, mental health requires a holistic approach and regular reinforcement techniques. Therefore, we can propose potential scope for Ayushman Bharat to address the issue of mental health. The integration of mental health care into the broader healthcare system can lead to better coordination of services. This can improve outcomes for individuals with both physical and mental health challenges. Ayushman Bharat can invest in training healthcare providers, including primary care physicians, to identify and handle common mental health conditions. This can help manage the shortage of mental health specialists in the country. The program can also gather data on mental health utilization and outcomes, which can notify future policy decisions and resource allocation to make better mental health services.
Nevertheless, it’s necessary to ensure that the implementation of mental health services under Ayushman Bharat is adequately funded, monitored, and integrated into the existing healthcare infrastructure. Further, public awareness campaigns are essential to diminish stigma and boost awareness about the significance of mental health. The World Federation for Mental Health has chosen the theme for 2023 as “Mental Health as a Universal Human Right.” We hope that Ayushman Bharat will play a crucial role in expanding mental health coverage and align with it.