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

01 Jan 2014
Gaiha SM, Sunil GA, Kumar R, Menon S


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.