India is staring at a mental health epidemic as mental health issues are acquiring a serious magnitude in the country, President Ram Nath Kovind said on Thursday. Kovind was speaking at the inauguration of the 21st World Congress of Mental Health in New Delhi.

The president said the biggest obstacle that mental health patients face is encountering stigma and denial. “We need to talk about mental health issues and treat ailments such as depression and stress as diseases that can be cured – not as guilty secrets that must be pushed under the carpet,” he said.

Citing figures from the National Mental Health Survey 2016, Kovind said around 14% of people in the country require mental health interventions and about 2% suffered from severe mental disorders. “Nearly 2,00,000 Indians take their own lives each year,” Kovind said. “If one includes attempted suicides, the number goes up substantially.”

Those living in metro cities, especially the youth, are more vulnerable to mental illnesses, he said. Kovind said combating mental health was a challenge as there are only about 5,000 psychiatrists and less than 2,000 clinical psychologists in India.

He further stated that the Centre’s National Mental Health Programme was building 22 centres of excellence, while the District Mental Health Programme was imparting knowledge on mental health to the grassroots of our society.

The president said yoga has not only physiological benefits, but also mental and psychological benefits. “I look forward to receiving feedback on the deliberations of the special session planned on the role of yoga in battling anxiety and depression – and in preventing the onset of mental health problems,” he said.