Mental health insurance likely to reduce stigma

Many suffering from mental disorders avoid treatment due to the stigma attached but IRDA's directive asking insurance companies to provide insurance for mental illness is likely to change that

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Thursday 23 August 2018
Mental health and insurance
1 in 5 Indians face depression in their lifetime. Credit: Victor/Flickr 1 in 5 Indians face depression in their lifetime. Credit: Victor/Flickr

A recent directive by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDA) may bring relief to millions in the country. The autonomous body looking after insurance industry asked all general insurance companies to provide medical insurance for mental illness as it is available for physical illness.

Published August 16, the IRDA circular asked all insurance companies to comply with the provision of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 with immediate effect. Section 21 (4) of Act says, “Every insurer shall make provision for medical insurance for treatment of mental illness on the same basis as is available for treatment of physical illness.”

The burden of mental illness is huge in India as one in five Indians, or 200 million, face depression in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization. Society's approach toward those affected makes it worse for the patients and families, as does the neglect by policy makers and insurance companies.

According to the 2015-16 survey of National Mental Health Survey of India, Common mental disorders (CMDs) which includes depression, anxiety disorder and substance use disorders are a huge burden. It affects nearly 10 per cent of the Indian population, says the survey conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Science (NIMHANS).

Apart from the social stigma, the financial burden takes a huge toll on the patients as well as their caregivers. The survey found that families spend nearly Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 monthly for treatment and also had to travel to access treatment, which was all out of pocket (OOP).

This is is likely to be underestimated as hidden and intangible costs add a huge burden, said the survey. “In our FGDs, participants revealed that spending on treatment, whether on conventional or even cultural –religious practices, often drove families into economic crisis.”

Often, many do not opt for treatment due to the stigma attached. Around 80 per cent of people suffering from mental disorders had not received any kind of treatment. These were the people who were suffering from the illness for more than 12 months, said the survey.

The insurance scheme will help people from both fronts. It will reduce the stigma related to the disease and also will help people to get treatment as well.

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