The Financial Express

Mental health a neglected sector

| Updated: November 17, 2020 22:36:40

Mental health a neglected sector

Any death is painful. And it is more so if it happens at a healthcare facility. But it becomes an outrage if the death occurs as a result of excesses committed by the people passing for health professionals.

Last week at a privately-run mental hospital in the city, a senior police officer, Anisul Karim, met his end under dubious circumstances. The staffs of that hospital allegedly used disproportionate force to calm him down resulting in the tragedy.

The unfortunate incident has perhaps only exposed the tip of the iceberg. For, we do not know how many such organisations are operating in the city and elsewhere faking as mental hospitals and how many unsuspecting people they have extorted and how many have been physically and mentally tortured, maimed, even killed under similar circumstances. 

The tragedy should be an eye-opener for all concerned. The common people's experience at the public and private hospitals we often learn from media reports. Some such dens of criminals in the guise of hospitals have recently been busted. The fraudsters at those so-called clinics posed as doctors/nurses conducted tests on people and certified if they were Covid-positive or not! It was all hoax and, surprisingly, this had been going on for long under the nose of the health department. Repeated complaints from people cheated by these fraudulent medical practitioners did finally awaken the authorities to the misdeeds of some of these false health clinics.

 Similarly, in the present case, the law-enforcement people have swung into action only after a tragedy has taken place. It is like closing the proverbial stable door after the horse has bolted.

That aside, the incident points to another troubling aspect of our healthcare regime. Evidently, agents of the fake mental clinic are active on the premises of the state-owned National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital (NIMH), touting for their own clinics' service. Some of them finally succeeded in taking the police officer into their grip.

It lays bare many unpleasant truths at the same time. First, it demonstrates how a national hospital has been invaded by the middlemen of private clinics with doubtful credentials. Second, many have already fallen victim to their tricks and what has happened to them has gone largely unreported. Third, it also shows that our public mental hospitals are overcrowded with patients-- a situation these private clinics are taking advantage of. Fourth, the state of this particular health sector is evident from the fact that quacks and charlatans are masquerading as doctors, taking the innocent victims for a ride! 

In Bangladesh, most people are hardly aware of their mental health conditions and far less willing to take any treatment, if any problem arises. It is only in extreme cases of mental disorder that they would look for psychiatrists' assistance.

The reason lies in the fact that the label of madness is often attached to people with mental problems. To fight such social attitude, a nationwide awareness campaign is necessary. Education on mental health should start from the primary level.

Official data about the state of the sector are sparse. According to a report, among the children, between 3.4 per cent and 22.9 per cent, and among adults between 6.5 per cent and 31 per cent suffer from mental illness. But the number of professionals to look after them is scandalously low-- 7.3 psychiatrists per 10 million people!  And of the government's total healthcare expenditure, a meagre 0.44 per cent go to the mental health sector.

The sector needs to be mainstreamed. To this end, a significant chunk of the government's health budget should be earmarked for the mental health sector. And mental healthcare has to be made part of the nation's primary healthcare system. Arrangements should be there to train doctors, nurses and other health professionals in all general public and private hospitals on latest ideas and researches on mental health issues. Only a robust growth of the mental health sector can rid it of quacks and impostors.


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