Bengaluru needs more mental health workers, cheaper therapy

Bengaluru City Health

A session costs Rs 3k-Rs 5k in the city

Samiksha Prakash, 26, had been struggling with anxiety issues when she decided to take up therapy sessions in Bengaluru. However, she was unaware that the cost of therapy would drill a hole in her pocket.

 “I earn around Rs 30,000 to Rs 32,000 per month,” said Prakash, “and therapy costs R. 2,500 to Rs 3,000 for one session. I cannot afford that every week, so I had to stop the sessions.”

Prakash, who works with an IT company in Bengaluru, wishes  more therapists were available in the public sector so that more people could afford therapy. “Any good therapist costs at least Rs 2,500 and you cannot even compromise when it comes to therapy…  It is important to have a good rapport with the therapist, and that only comes with experienced professionals.”

Increasing stress and workload has made therapy  a necessity for many young professionals. Research by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that psychotherapy helps reduce the overall need for health services and has long-term health benefits. The research also reveals that the average effects of psychotherapy are larger than the effects produced by medical treatments.

Raksha Gusain, 22, a sales auditor working in Bengaluru, has had a similar experience with therapy. “Bengaluru has a high cost of living and it is hard to live a comfortable life here with a freshers salary.  Here therapy is like a luxury that not everyone can afford.”

Gusain took therapy sessions as a college student. “When I was in college, my parents paid for my sessions, so I did not know how expensive it could be. Now that I am living on my own, I don’t  think I can afford it anymore.… Mental health is as important as physical health. There should be cheaper and more options available for therapy.”

The situation in other states is quite different from that in Bengaluru.

Vinaya K, a college student from Kerala, informed The Observer: “In Kerala, there are cheaper options available for therapy. I had taken therapy. It used to cost just Rs 300 per session. I was shocked to find out the cost of therapy in Bengaluru.”

There is a dire need of medical health professionals in the city. A report published by The New Indian Express in 2019 said there is a shortage of health workers trained in mental health, as also a lack of investment in community-based mental health facilities.

According to a Nimhans study, about 8 per cent of Karnataka’s population suffers from mental illnesses, and 7.3 per cent of those in the 13-17 year age group,   need mental health care.

Dr Mahesh Gowda, a consulting psychiatrist at the Spandana Nursing Home, Bengaluru, explained the gravity of the situation. “To be able to give therapy legally, a person either needs to have a doctorate degree in psychology or needs to be a psychiatrist.… He also needs to be registered by the Rehabilitation Council of India.

 “The qualification is so strict that there are hardly enough qualified and trained mental health professionals in the country. There are about 9,000 psychiatrists in the country and only around 2,000 psychologists and social workers who are trained and qualified to cater to a 1.3 billion population. If you look at the requirement, you need at least 20,000 therapists… There need to be many more medical units and centers to generate and train the required amount of staff.”

About the cost of therapy in Bengaluru, Dr Gowda said: “Any good therapist will charge somewhere between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 per session. The number of sessions that one needs also differs, depending on the issue. It could be 12 to 20 sessions   at times. Some personality disorders may need a few years of therapy, maybe even 5-10 years. So that turns out to be very expensive, and none of the insurance (companies) reimburses this cost. People have to pay from their pockets. Not many people can afford it.”

About 70 per cent  graduates from Nimhans and other such institutions leave the country as they are not paid well, he shared.

Many people who don’t have enough qualifications have started giving  mental health counseling as cheaper alternatives.

Shefali Patel, a college professor was trained to provide mental health counselling to students during the first wave of the pandemic.

“I had no prior background in psychology, but as the cases of anxiety and stress were increasing among college students, the teaching staff were given brief training for mental health counselling. We provided many college students counselling for free,” Patel said.

In June 2020, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority made it mandatory for health insurers to include mental health treatment under scope of coverage. However, reports say there is still inadequate health insurance coverage for those suffering from mental ailments. 

In October 2021, The Economic Times reported that Ayushman Bharat, the Centre’s health insurance scheme, doesn’t cover mental health treatment at private hospitals.

saumyangi.y@iijnm.org

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