The architecture of the primary mental healthcare system for older people in India: what public policies tell us

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Abstract

Background: Old age mental healthcare is an issue that cuts across old age, general health, and mental healthcare policies. While strengthening the primary mental healthcare system in India is a common strategy across policy fields to improve the mental health of older persons, very little is known about the system’s planned architecture. This study explores public policy strategies for and approaches to the mental health of older persons, focusing on the primary healthcare (PHC) level and the role of the family. Methods: A document analysis of 39 key public national policy documents (2007 – 2019) from three thematically grouped policy fields (mental health, old age, and general health) was conducted. Results: Comprehensive community-based primary mental healthcare – focusing on vulnerable population groups including older persons – has been strengthened significantly since 2007. The promulgated approaches and strategies build on traditional community-based approaches to mental healthcare in India. They focus on (a) integrating community health workers into primary mental healthcare, (b) empowering the community to participate in healthcare planning, implementation, and monitoring, (c) supporting the family through a family-led approach to mental healthcare, and (d) integrating traditional Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homeopathy (AYUSH) services into primary mental healthcare. Conclusions: While all policy fields address mental PHC, they do so in different ways, and approaches and strategies that promote an integrated perspective across policy fields are lacking. To realize the policies vision, strengthening PHC will be essential. Further research should evaluate strategies and approaches in light of social developments, such as eroding family norms and the poor state of the public health system in India, in order to assess their opportunities, challenges, and overall feasibility, with the benefits older people would experience taking centre stage in these inquiries.

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Kafczyk, T., & Hämel, K. (2021). The architecture of the primary mental healthcare system for older people in India: what public policies tell us. International Journal of Mental Health Systems, 15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-021-00494-8

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