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Enhancing mental health literacy in India to reduce stigma: the fountainhead to improve help-seeking behaviour

Shivani Mathur Gaiha (Research Associate, Health Communication, based at the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India)
Greeshma Ann Sunil (Former consultant in mental health)
Rajeev Kumar (Rajeev Kumar, Co-ordinator, Research at Innovators in Health, Jaipur, India)
Subhadra Menon (Director, Health Communication at the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India)

Journal of Public Mental Health

ISSN: 1746-5729

Article publication date: 9 September 2014




Lack of understanding around mental illness and stigma are an overwhelming barrier in help-seeking behaviour for mental health concerns. The purpose of this paper is to examine mental health literacy and social attitudes as instrumental factors in building capacity of the demand-side to support and access mental health care at the community level in India.


Knowledge, Attitude and Practice surveys were administered to 521 persons from the general population, distributed equally in the age range of 15-60 years. The study included 52 respondents per district from ten districts across five states in India, namely Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. The responses were collected and analysed thematically, keeping in mind the relevance of these findings as contributors to knowledge of mental health and to the construct of stigma.


Pervasive socio-cultural factors, especially stigma inhibit access to basic mental health information and care, despite knowledge that mental illness is treatable. Degrading treatment, loss of personal liberty and social exclusion, i.e. compromised human rights at the community level are widespread. Self-reported attitudes when encountering a person with mental illness show that respondents act out of fear and are guided by misinformation and myths. Extant knowledge on mental health is attributed predominantly to informal networks, as a potential resource to be strengthened.

Practical implications

Realising mental health care, including help-seeking behaviour calls for greater knowledge-sharing, sensitisation and community engagement.


This paper fulfils an identified need to study current levels of mental health literacy and underlying perceptions that contribute to the persistent treatment gap.



This research was led by the Health Communication Division at the Public Health Foundation of India with financial support from the National Mental Health Programme, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. The authors are grateful to the Technical Advisory Group of the “Maanavta Se Anmol Mann Tak” (Humanity for Precious Minds) pilot communication campaign for feedback on survey methodology and instruments. The eminent group included Dr A.K. Agarwal, Dr B. Anand, Dr Vivek Benegal, Dr Achal Bhagat, Dr Sanjiv Jain, Dr K.N. Kalita, Dr Sudhir Khandelwal, Professor Vikram Patel, Dr Alka Pawar, Dr C. Ramasubramanian, Dr M. Ranganathan, Dr Sudipta Roy and Dr R. Thara. The authors would like to acknowledge the efforts of community-based organisations and volunteers who facilitated this research.


Mathur Gaiha, S., Ann Sunil, G., Kumar, R. and Menon, S. (2014), "Enhancing mental health literacy in India to reduce stigma: the fountainhead to improve help-seeking behaviour", Journal of Public Mental Health, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 146-158.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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