Like other parts of Pakistan, World Mental Health Day (October 10) was also celebrated in the terrorism-affected province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In almost all big teaching hospitals of the provincial capital, many functions were organized to highlight the importance of mental health and throw light on overcoming mental health-related issues.
Most of the credit for that goes to the Pakistan Psychiatric Society, which organised events in the provincial metropolis and other parts of the province. Similarly, some other associations and institutes also arranged a few programmes in this regard.
This is a good sign of hope and encouragement for developing a society that is free of mental health related-issues. In some of these events, the officials of the provincial government also participated and claimed that all the discussed issues would be resolved.
However, it is a fact that while the provincial government claims at every platform that is has brought mega changes in the health system, it has still ignored the mental health of the public that is in miserable condition. There is no mental health related law in the province and no proper care and management system for the mentally-ill people.
If the government cannot address people’s psychological problems in a proper time the results may be more deplorable. Since there is no management system of international standards for the resolution of mental health issues, the ratio of psychiatric disorders is on the rise.
According to the research data available, the prevalence of depression is the highest among general population, which stands at 33 percent, followed by Generalized Anxiety Disorders. The prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), particularly among children is also on the rise. The prevalence of this is highest among internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The head of the psychiatry department at Khyber Teaching Hospital, Peshawar, Prof Dr Sayed Muhammad Sultan, says that “mental health should be prioritised in the province in order to avoid loss of valuable human lives. In the country, every fourth person is suffering from a psychological disorder and only 500 psychiatrists are serving the entire population. Similarly, around half of million people are going through schizophrenia, while the rest, one way or the other, are undergoing other psychological disorders”.
Similarly, substance abuse is also a major mental health problem in the province. Besides heroin, hashish and tobacco, many people use ice and dried scorpions. Alarmingly, the prevalence of substance abuse is highest among youngsters. Unfortunately, Oral Substitution Therapy (OST) which is used throughout the world to treat substance abuse, is still not available in the province.
A young psychiatrist, Dr Saqib Siddique, says that the “provincial government should play its role to reduce the stigma of mental illnesses by awareness campaigns in collaboration with psychiatrists. Media also have a very pertinent role in creating awareness as much of our population still considers mental disorders to be the effects of djinn possession and black magic”.
Psychologists are of the opinion that household problems, poverty, and social issues like marriage at a young age, forced marriages, sexual abuse, insecurity, deteriorating law and order situation, unemployment and inflation are among the main causes of psychological problems.
Another well-known psychiatrist and Head of Psychiatry Department at the Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar Prof Dr Saeed Farooq says: “To make better the status of mental health, it would be pertinent to revise the curriculum of the undergraduate course of medicine and surgery (MBBS) in light of international standards, while adding psychiatry as a key subject to it.
“Furthermore, newly graduated students of MBBS should spend more time at psychiatry wards. Similarly, post-graduate training in psychiatry should be made attractive by granting incentives to the newcomers. The health department should also review its policies and prioritise psychiatry. And psychiatrists should be appointed at all tehsil and district headquarters hospitals”.
Although many steps have been taken by the present KP government to facilitate the treatment of mental disorders – like the establishment of specialised centres for PTSD and approval of a Geriatric Psychiatry Department at Khyber Teaching Hospital, Peshawar – there is still a long way to go and immediate steps are necessary to overcome the burden of mental disorders.
The writer works for Daily Jang in Peshawar. Email: asif1015yahoo.com