About 2.25 crore people in Bangladesh have been found to be suffering from about 13 types of mental disorders from a government survey conducted in 2019. Besides the adult population, 13.6% of children aged between 7 and 17 were also found to be suffering from mental disorders. More alarmingly the survey found that 92.3% of the adult respondents and 94.5% of child respondents diagnosed with different mental disorders do not receive any treatment. Although Bangladesh has been identified as a country with a vulnerable record in the mental health care sector by the international community, it spends only 0.44% of national budget in this sector and has 0.073 psychiatrists per 100,000 populations.[1]

The Traditional Mental Health Services in Bangladesh

Traditional Services such as hospital-based services have proven inadequate in recent times and have gradually been replaced or supplemented by online services that can provide emergency solutions. The services from some of the traditional services are:

InstitutionMode of operationServices
National institute of Mental Health (NIMH)OfflineCounselling (individual + Group)
Child Development Center (CDC)OfflineCounselling (individual + Group)
Psycho-social Counseling Unit Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK)Online & offlineCounselling (individual + Group) 
Psychological Service Center, Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, DUOffline and onlineIndividual  And Couple Counseling
Nasirullah Psychotherapy Unit (NPU) Department of Clinical Psychology, DUOfflineIndividual, Couple, Family, Group and Child Counseling
Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation (BPF)OfflineIndividual, Couple and Family Counseling
Figure: Existing Mental Health Platforms and their Services/ Source: Shuni.org[2] 

New Generation of Mental Health Services Making their Mark

The statistics regarding treatment gaps in mental health makes it clear that current services are often inadequate and lack the necessary resources to tackle problems round the clock. So different private organizations and startups have been making a significant entry into the mental health scenario. Some of the noticeable ones are:

LifeSpring

LifeSpring currently has more than 200 mental health professionals working with them and aimsto integrate psychological care in all aspects of society.[3]

LifeSpring offers both online and offline services to their clients. The company has recently started to gain attention through social media engagement. Their services include:

  1. Psychological Counseling
  2. Corporate Service
  3. Student Support
  4. Child Development
  5. Online Counseling
  6. Online Psychoeducation etc.

Availability of both online and offline services make LifeSpring a go-to destination for many people who need assistance with their mental health. 

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Sajida Foundation and Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic – PHWC

SAJIDA Foundation began in 1987 as a small garage school for disadvantaged children and has grown to be an inclusive social organization that offers healthcare services and other social services for more than 6 million people.[7]

The Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic (PHWC) was established in 2017 in partnership with SAJIDA Foundation. It has become a renowned name in the mental health arena with a wide offering of services. It has multiple services that are designed to cater to all demographics. Besides general mental health facilities, it also provides corporate wellness services such as:

  1. Employee Assistance Program
  2. Corporate Seminars
  3. Group Counselling
  4. Crisis Intervention 

PHWC also provides training to professionals and non-professionals. Some of these training modules are:

  1. Mental Health First Aid
  2. Para-Counselling
  3. Basic Mental Health Skills etc.

Besides these set training modules, PHWC also provides custom modules.

Moner Bondhu

Moner Bondhu aims to make mental healthcare affordable and accessible for all through online and offline sessions. Their website provides solutions based on different experiences a patient might go through. For example, some of the issues their services address are:

  1. Relationship Problems,
  2. Anxiety Management,
  3. Depression Counselling,
  4. Stress Counselling,
  5. Marital Problems etc.

The platform has an app and a website to drive continuous engagement with their clients. Moner Bondhu has received multiple awards and continues to help people with mental health. 

Moner Daktar

Moner Daktar is a concern of Telepsychiatry Research and Innovation Network Ltd. It offers services from multiple healthcare professionals through their vast network. They have 3 main offerings:

  1. Psychiatric Consultation
  2. Psychotherapy and Counselling
  3. Mental Health Assessments

The assessment has been specially designed for Bangladesh keeping all cultural and language factors in mind.

Psycure Organization

Psycure provides counselling on suicide prevention, depression, anxiety, and career solutions and has been growing fast in the past few years. Having connected with around 25000 people, psycure is trying to fight the stigma against mental health through different awareness campaigns as well. 

Current Obstacles to improving mental health services

Mental Health constitutes  a major  public health  challenge undermining social  and economic development throughout much of the developing world. In Bangladesh, mental health remains ignored as only 0.44% of the total health budget is allocated towards mental health.[4]

  1. Financial Burden

With 65% out of the pocket spending in healthcare, mental health services become burdensome of people from the lower income segments as mental health services are already more expensive. [4] 

  1. Lack of Personnel

Bangladesh suffers from a lack of personnel in the healthcare sector. There are only 3.05 physicians and 1.07 nurses per 10,000 people in the country.[5] Most of these professionals are focused in the urban areas. The situation is even worse in the mental health sector as mental health professionals are extremely tough to come by. 

  1. Social Stigma

There are multiple social stigma associated with mental health problems and treatment in Bangladesh. Although the situation has been improving, the general outlook of the society prevents patients from seeking the help that they need. As a result, 92.3% of people with mental health issues do not seek any professional help.[6]

  1. Policy Weakness

A very small portion of the budget is allocated towards mental health services and this is reflected in the lack of resources available for mental health patients throughout the country. This weakness in policy has eventually created more systematic problems in different parts of the society. 

The Way Forward

The way forward for mental health services is not an easy one. Some of the recommendations on how to make the situation better can be:

  1. The budget allocation has to be improved with more provision for the health sector.
  2. Educational Institutions such as schools, colleges, universities etc. should have mandatory mental health support facilities from certified professionals. 
  3. More training institutions for mental health professionals have to be created to ensure their availability.
  4. Peer support groups have seen to be very effective for mental health issues, and so these groups have to be encouraged through exposure and funding.
  5. Startups working with mental health have to be encouraged through funding and support from both public and private sources. These modern day solutions have the power to reach out to the youth and connect with them on a personal level.
  6. Psychiatrists have to be trained to adapt to current times so that patients do not feel that they are not getting the proper care.

So, in conclusion, mental health services have historically been tough to come by in Bangladesh because of the lack of recognition of the problem. It is a matter of hope that these problems are starting to be recognized throughout the country. and people are looking for contemporary solutions instead of sticking to traditional ones. But, proper growth can only be achieved when there is infrastructural support from the government and so that should be the top priority in the mental health sector. 

Eqra Mohammad Resalat Ohee,  Trainee Consultant and Farah Hamud Khan, Senior Business Consultant & Project Manager, at LightCastle Partners, have prepared the write-up. For further clarifications, contact here: [email protected]

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