Heeding pertinent matters
Given how agriculture is the backbone of the Indian economy and that agrarian and rural distress are, in fact, matters of very serious consequences, Maharashtra is leading the ways with mental health plan to address rural distress. Under the mental health service scheme Prerana which was initiated in 2016, 46,542 farmers have been counselled in four years, and 11,304 hospitalised due to severe mental breakdown. The state's Health Department has been running the scheme in 14 drought-hit districts including Latur which made headlines for having suffered the worst drought. Maharashtra is due for polls shortly and in what is more obvious as an electoral exercise, picking up the concern of rural distress brings to highlight an issue that must be a matter of serious discussion: Mental health as an election issue. In a week dedicated to observing mental health, it must be acknowledged that mental health is as much an individual matter as it is a collective concern for groups of people inflicted with troubles of myriad kinds. In a report submitted in the state's Assembly in June, the government had acknowledged 12,021 farmers suicides in the state between 2015-18, and over 600 this year alone. A 12-point checklist of public health questionnaire in accordance with the guidelines of the WHO coupled with trained ASHA workers were the method to conduct the survey across 77 lakh homes and the result was the diagnosis of 10,213 farmers and family members with depression. In 2017-18, approximately 78 lakh homes were visited by ASHA workers where they were able to narrow down 8,645 people with depression. The 2018-19 figures reveal that 14,006 farmers were found with mild depression symptoms which prominently include prolonged periods of sadness, and unable to take part in any pleasurable activity previously enjoyed, 4,806 with moderate depression, the symptoms of which are loss of sleep and appetite and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness; at least 1,111 have severe depression (symptoms include suicidal thoughts, nihilistic delusions, prolonged fatigue, somatic complaints, etc.). It is true that not everyone can open up about their condition and it is the requisite challenge to maintain a close connect with villages to help identify the persons who may be having mental health issues. Addressing the mental health of farmers and individuals who suffer related conditions due to economic crisis is largely an ignored concern today but it is a positive step forward with this matter coming up in the context of elections.