Mental health- A great challenge for Pakistan

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This is a guest post by Sharafat Ali Shigari, a Student of International Relations at NUML on the topic of Mental health- A great challenge for Pakistan.

Mental health is something that we all need to talk about, and we need to take the stigma away from it. So let’s raise awareness. Let’s let everybody know it’s OK to have a mental illness and addiction problem.” — Demi Lovato

It is a famous axiom that a healthy body has a healthy mind but we have never considered that the converse may also be true- A healthy mind may have a healthy body. For example, depressed people are more vulnerable to a heart attack. Depression also makes our ammine system weak, which means more chance of attack of Coronavirus.

According to WHO Mental health can be defined as:

“A state of mind in which an individual realizes his/her abilities, can cope with the normal stress, work productively, and can make a contribution to his or her community.” Mental health is sometimes referred to as the absence of a mental disorder. Mental illness includes depression, Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychoses, dementia.

Depression is the most common mental illness in society. In this confusing age, everyone seems depressed. The main symptom of depression is illogical sadness, loss of interest in activities e.g. studies. A depressed person loses concentration in studies and lacks appetite.

Persons suffering from Bipolar Disorder chances their mood from time to time. They feel happy at one time and feel hopeless and sluggish at another time. In this way, their mood shift from one thing to another thing and they cannot concentrate on one thing. It is called bipolar because people suffering from this have two moods (high mood and low mood) they automatically transit from one mood to another.

Schizophrenia is not a common mental disorder but it affects but affects 20 million people worldwide according to the WHO 2019 report. Hallucinating (hearing a voice and seething that do not exist), erratic behavior, wondering aimlessly and aimless laughs are some common symptoms of schizophrenia.

As I have illustrated above that mental illness has robust roots in our society and it will have detrimental effects if not tackled immediately. About 20 million people in Pakistan suffering from some kind of mental illness. Add to the worry, Pakistan has the lowest psychiatric to person ratio in the world. Pakistan has one psychiatrist for ten thousand people. One child psychiatrist for every four million people and only four to five psychiatric hospitals for the entire population.

According to IPIOS, A multinational market research and consulting firm with headquarter in Paris, sixty people of the Pakistani population suffered from moderate to high-level mental issues while eight in ten persons showed some symptoms of mental illness.

Although mental disorders are increasing in the whole world the situation in Pakistan is pathetic. We never concentrated on this issue on a national or individual level. False religious beliefs are so entrenched that we believe in the Peers (spiritual leaders) more than doctors. In our society, we consult these Pirs’ for our mental and physical problems. The evils eye and belief of demons are so strong that when somebody hallucinates we consult this pirs instead of a psychiatrist that may be the symptom of Schizophrenia.

The number of suicides in Pakistan is increasing exponentially. The suicide rate in Pakistan is 15-35 persons per day and it is increasing at an alarming rate. Suicide is prohibited in Islam but people are committing it in the state of Pakistan. Coupled with many problems chronic tension among the people is a major cause of suicide. In Pakistan half of the population is Hungary if not starving. Depressed youth due to unemployment also feel stress and commit many illegal actions.

In Pakistan, Public health spending is less than 1% of the total GDP. There is no special budget allocated for the mental health sector. The health sector is so pathetic that we have no rabies vaccine and our compatriots are dying due to the bites of dogs. In this situation how can expect that our government provides mental health facilities for common people? If some hospitals have the facilities to cure mental issues, the cost is so high that common people cannot effort.

The ubiquitous increase of social media in the past ten years has also affected our mental health, especially of adolescents. Although social media has many positive aspects we cannot undermine its negative impact. The media cannot be the replacement of real-world interaction. When you physically meet someone who cares for you, it alleviates your tension and makes you happier. Social media apps are designed to make users more addicted and spend more time on them. In this way, you feel yourself in isolation and feel depressed. They do not have any health concerns. They have only the policy of engaging users, grow the number of users, and enhance the investment. (If you want to know further watch the net flex movie: “Social Dilemma”).

Studies have shown that heavy social media users feel less self-esteem- Confidence in one’s abilities. The constant barrage of filtered photos on Instagram and Facebook shitter the confidence of adults and they feel less confident. They do not know that these photos are their best photo out of a hundred photos of a picnic on the beach or anywhere.

The treatment of mental disorders is possible but the issue is that people are reluctant to accept that they have mental issues. In our society, it is considered taboo to discuss mental issues. Consultation with a mental specialist has never been seen as a need in our society. Sadly, due to our social norms, we consult Pirs and they even exacerbate the mental condition. If I say, I have visited a psychiatrist people will see me with skeptical eyes and think of me as an insane person.

I will suggest some ways at the individual and national levels to deal with this issue. First of all, I advise surrounding with some people to whom you trust completely. I mean that you should have some people in your life with them you share your feelings and worries, in this way you can alleviate your tension. Try to come out of the virtual world (Social media) and interact with your friends. If you are under stress you feel loneliness and if you have some people in your life to whom you can express your feelings, worries then you are lucky. Friends are a great blessing of Allah Almighty and feel thankful to Allah Almighty.

The thing I suggest is to limit the usage of Social media websites e.g. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat. If you do so, you will stop comparing yourself with others and the filtered photos will not demotivate you. Try to do not to use social media late at night. Researches have proven that using social media late at night will lead to sleeplessness. Try to sleep early and get up early in the morning. In this way, you have a healthy mind.

At the government level, there is a dare need to raise awareness in public about mental disorders, there is a need to make them understand that mental health is as much important as physical health. We should work to break the stranglehold of societal norms in which it is considered taboo to go to a psychiatrist. Governments should start counseling programs at the college, university, and organizational levels. In these programs, they should teach how to handle mental stress, emotional management, and many other health-related problems.

Mental disorders have not been recognized as the main issue of our society at the state level. There is a need to adopt a comprehensive plan with the consensus of provinces to address this issue as early as possible otherwise it will concert in an epidemic in the coming years. Separate hospitals should be established to treat mental disorder patients. Pakistan has one of the lowest psychiatrists’ patient ratios in the world. We should recruit more psychiatrists in hospitals.

In last we should realize that considerate mental health is as necessary as physical health. Physical health and mental health are related to each other. But this issue has been neglected completely. Now the time has come to address this problem as early as possible. We have completely forgotten human securities by securing state borders. Public health is more important than anything else and we should not make a compromise on it. If our people are healthy it will affect our whole national power.

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