Meghalaya becomes the first North Eastern state to approve a holistic and inclusive Mental Health and Social Care Policy
It has been reported that in 2019, 1 in every 8 people, around the world suffered from mental illness. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people who suffer from anxiety and depressive illnesses greatly increased in 2020. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. More than 15 million people – 30% of the UK population – live with one or more long-term conditions, and more than 4 million of these people will also have mental health problems. With about 150 million people in India estimated to live with a diagnosable mental health condition, and nearly 83% of individuals without access to mental healthcare services, the magnitude of the mental health crisis in the country is undoubtedly immense. The Union Budget 22 widely focused on mental health and the Government allocated 0.8% of the total health budget towards mental health. Nearly $5 million was earmarked for the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP). A ‘National Tele Mental Health Programme’ will be launched for better access to quality mental health counseling and care. While the implementation of these initiatives is still under way, few states have launched their own programs. Meghalaya became the first North Eastern state and the third in the country when the Meghalaya Cabinet approved the Meghalaya Mental Health and Social Care policy in November 2022, under the leadership of Chief Minister Shri Conrad Sangma.
The importance of improving mental health in achieving equity and vice versa has grown, as has acknowledgment of people’s ability to live fulfilling lives as a key indicator of population well-being. While a larger part of the population was previously ignorant about the matter, consciousness and knowledge around mental health and wellness has been on the rise. The terrain of Meghalaya combined with the socio-cultural factors made it necessary to create a policy that is culturally specific, feasible and sustainable interventions. The State’s mental health policy does just that. The goal of the Meghalaya mental health and social care policy is to allow appropriate access and care routes for both common and serious mental health disorders while also promoting general mental health and well-being. It seeks to lessen the severity of disability, mortality, morbidity, and social misery. The Policy specifically focuses on children, adolescents, and the youth. The policy aims to engage in collaborative engagement with the communities it wishes to serve to address the socioeconomic determinants of mental illness and promote cultural security. The culturally rooted policy aims to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. The Policy will enhance reformation, rehabilitation, and recognition, which are crucial for raising awareness and developing support systems.
By addressing the social factors of mental illness and ensuring cultural competency, it aims to reduce the extent of disability, morbidity, mortality, and social suffering. Ensuring everyone has access to fair mental health and social care requires security and cooperative involvement with the communities. Social justice, happiness in life, self-healing, and inclusion in and engagement in the community are some of the Policy’s core beliefs. The NPP led Government of Meghalaya aims to ensure that all sectors cooperate to alleviate distress, improve mental health and wellness, and reduce disability arising from common and severe mental disorders across the lifespan of each person living in the state. All individuals have a fundamental right to wellbeing; thus, the state intends to work to foster a sense of life fulfilment, thriving, and hope, all of which have a favorable and mutually reinforcing effect on mental health. Adopting a transdisciplinary approach and drawing from the wisdom of multisectoral entities, a comprehensive, dynamic, and adaptive mental health system that attempts to address the many dimensions of well-being and ill health has been developed.
The National Mental Health Policy (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2014), which advocates for the integration of care across public mental health and health systems, with an emphasis on community living and special attention to vulnerable populations, also influences the Policy. Coordination and convergence between the social and health sectors are necessary to effectively address the social determinants of mental ill-health. According to the Meghalaya State Mental Health Policy, having access to mental health is a fundamental right.