Reforms needed to destigmatize mental illness in Pakistan

We must focus on awareness of the masses about mental health and the monstrosity of psychiatric problems, writes author.

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We are dealing with half a million people with 400 psychiatrists in the country. Majority of these psychiatrists are stationed in urban cities. They are coping with the problems single-handedly. WHO’s mental health report of 2017 manifests that there are only four big psychiatric hospitals in the country with 344 residential care facilities and 654 psychiatric centers in public hospitals. Making a comparison of population and bed ratio, it ranges 2.1% for over 100,000.

Children are enormously inflicted by the psychiatric muddle in the country. Despite the fact, it is quite challenging to engage children and families in psychiatric treatment. WHO has reported 3,729 outdoor patients’ mental health centers in the country among which the ratio of children and adults is 1%.

Read more: The simmering pandemic: Mental health in Pakistan

These mental health centers are dealing with 343.34 visitors per 100,000 persons in the general population. It is also a dilemma that only 9.31% of users contact these centers. These centers also provide follow up service to 46% of outdoor patients. There are only 1% mental health mobile psychiatric teams. Due to unawareness, the intervention ratio was 1% to 20% in the past years. There are 624 indoor mental health care centers for 1.96 beds per 100,000 population from which only 1% are reserved for children contrary to the reality of mental health issues among children and adolescents.

We must focus on awareness of the masses about the monstrosity of psychiatric problems.

Big hospitals are linked with out-reach outdoor patients’ basic care units. The efforts to augment the number of beds have been observed during the past years; however it is not satisfactory yet as compared to the population explosion.

Awareness required to destigmatize mental illnesses 

Realistically speaking, we cannot cope with the existing enigma with medical facilities, by increasing numbers of hospitals and primary mental health care units. We must focus on awareness of the masses about the monstrosity of psychiatric problems. Majority has the tendency to resort to typical and traditional methods of treating this ailment. Many of them have to suffer humiliation to reveal it. In rural areas it is regarded taboo to divulge a psychiatric disorder. Most of them move to religious shrines or pseudo spiritual pundits. We must take long term initiatives to curb this ever culminating evil by educating the masses.

If we do not hesitate to visit a doctor, we must never abstain from consulting a psychiatrist.

All the mental health cases are not reported to the hospitals, so the crux of the problem is more gargantuan than projected. We have not prescribed any course about this problem even up to intermediate level. At intermediate level, instead of mandatory, it is an elective subject which is hardly chosen by less than 1%.

Read more:  Mental health during coronavirus: Kashmiri children suffering

Psychology as a subject with its propagated narrow prospects has lesser significance when measured up with the yardstick of job placement and income. Overwhelming majority of our students are getting education for a job and earning rather than for knowledge’s sake. By putting into consideration the fact that the majority of mental health cases are reported in children and adolescents, we must stipulate sound obligatory courses before intermediate level. Psychology, besides an elective subject in humanities and medical profession is one of the stream causes of its spread.

Young medical professionals must be encouraged to espouse the psychiatric field by bringing home its vitality and future prospects.

Even in the medical profession, mental health course syllabi are not taken seriously as there is no examination for it. Most of the mental health syllabus is covered by lectures, seminars and workshops. If we give due heed to our students’ psyche, they never bother about the course which is not expectedly going to affect their grades. PMDC, now PMC and other associations must make it a compulsory part of their syllabus so that we can be able to eliminate this predicament.

Read more: COVID-19 can spark a major mental health crisis: UN

There is also a dire need of developing a triangular partnership among parents, children and teachers with the collaboration of medical professionals to raise awareness about this problem. Psychiatry is now hailed as a mandatory field but it will take time to make its professional place in the society likewise physicians and surgeons’. People are prone to doctors, natural healers and spiritual curers.  They consider it against their social status quo to be labeled as a psychological patient. We must clarify that psychiatric problems are quiet like medical ones.

If we do not hesitate to visit a doctor, we must never abstain from consulting a psychiatrist. Though the medical profession is contributing to eradicate the barriers yet they are insufficient. They must do more for the nation by prioritizing psychiatric solutions to the mental health problems.

Way forward

Rationally, Pakistan is not the only country facing mental health issues. There are millions of common mental health patients in many other countries. The nexus of the crisis is that we are not giving it due importance as it is required. Our imperative initiatives may hinder its spreading speed in the society. We are fully aware of the veracity that we lack in resources to tackle the problem, yet we are compelled to do what we can to avert it. The treatment of this ailment is not affordable to every family as we are already overburdened economically.

Covid-19 has cut the masses knee deep financially. It is wise to espouse awareness policies to control it to the utmost level. The quakes, pseudo spiritual and black magic practitioners have worsened the situation. We also cannot sustain every family with funds and donations. It is chocolaty for the public to consent to a treatment of counseling rather than syrups, tablets, injections and medical tests. So, the job of a psychiatrist is a herculean task. Young medical professionals must be encouraged to espouse the psychiatric field by bringing home its vitality and future prospects.

Read more: Corona stress: This is how you can improve your mental health

The government must move ahead to proclaim incentive and scholarships for the students to tackle and control the problem in the future. The use of drugs is culminating in our youths. It is due to absence of psychiatric counseling that they fall a victim to drug addiction. The use of drugs even in college and university students was much in the news a few months back. The students have certain nondescript sorts of pressures and stress. Due to an unavailability of proper counseling to get rid of the flux, they turn to drugs.

Normally, our concept and notion of a disease is a physical one. We never concentrate on the mental illness of our child. It keeps on creeping silently which results in a catastrophe. We must curb the mental health problems before we step on the threshold of an asylum.

The author is an English professor and a freelance columnist. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 


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