Background: Mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and suicide represent an important public health problem in India. Elsewhere in the world a high prevalence of symptoms of common mental disorders have been found among people who inject drugs (PWID). Research in India has largely overlooked symptoms of common mental disorders among this high risk group. This paper reports on the results of a survey examining quality of life, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among adult males who inject drugs living in Delhi.
Methods: Participants (n = 420) were recruited from needle and syringe programs using time location sampling and were interviewed using an interviewer-administered questionnaire. Self-report symptom scales were used to measure the severity of symptoms of depression (PHQ-9) and anxiety (GAD-2) within the preceding 2 weeks. We assessed the presence of suicidal thoughts and attempts within the past 12 months.
Results: The mean length of injecting career was 20.9 years indicating a sample of chronic injecting drug users, of whom only one-third (38%) were born in Delhi. The level of illiteracy was very high (62%), and just 2% had completed class 12. Scavenging / rag picking was the main form of income for 48%, and many were homeless (69%). One-third (33%) had been beaten up at least twice during the preceding 6 months, and many either never (45%) or rarely (27%) attended family events. We found a high prevalence of depressive (84%, cut-off ≥10) and anxiety (71%, cut-off score of ≥3) symptoms. Fifty-three percent thought about killing themselves in the past 12 months, and 36% had attempted to kill themselves.
Conclusions: Our findings revealed a socially excluded population of PWID in Delhi who have minimal education and are often homeless, leaving them vulnerable to physical violence, poverty, poor health, imprisonment and disconnection from family. The high prevalence of psychological distress found in this study has implications for programmes seeking to engage, treat and rehabilitate PWID in India.