Monday May 27, 2024

Alarming rise in suicide by youth in Pakistan

19,331 suicidal deaths were reported in 2019 in Pakistan, of which 14,771 were males and 4,560 were females

By M. Waqar Bhatti
May 14, 2024
A representational image showing a woman experiencing stress. — AFP/File
A representational image showing a woman experiencing stress. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Everyday around 50-55 people, mostly men are committing suicides in Pakistan, 70 percent of whom are people in the age group of 15-29 years, mental health experts said, adding that suicide is now the fourth leading cause of death among youngsters in the country.

Quoting the World Health Organisation (WHO), they said 19,331 suicidal deaths were reported in 2019 in Pakistan, of which 14,771 were males and 4,560 were females, and added that the WHO also estimates that for every suicide, there are at least 10-20 acts of self-harm. Hence, there may be an estimated 140,000 to 300,000 acts of self-harm in Pakistan annually.

“Major contributing factors to mental health issues facing youngsters are academic pressure, substance abuse, cyberbullying, excessive use of social media, family disputes and lack of economic opportunities, said Dr. Syed Usman Hamdani, Founding Director, Global Institute of Human Development-Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University (GIHD-STMU) at a mental health moot on Monday.

The moot titled “Mapping Youth Mental Health Landscapes: Insights from Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam,” was organised by the GIHD-STMU at Shifa College of Medicine.

Issues of youth mental health were discussed during the scientific moot, where experts including former Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr. Zafar Mirza, Canadian and Pakistani diplomats, Chancellor STMU Dr. Manzoor H. Qazi, Vice Chancellor STMU Prof. Muhammad Iqbal Khan, Dean Faculty of Health STMU, Prof Dr. Mohammad Amir, Prof Dr. Bushra Mirza from Higher Education Commission, Dr. Zill-e-Huma and Syeda Wajeeha Zafar from GIHD STMU, Dr. Amirah Ellyza Wahdi from Indonesia, Dr. Eman Gaber from Egypt, Dr. Dang Thi Viet Phuong from Vietnam, Prof Dr Tahir Khalily, Prof. Dr. Ali Hashmi, Chairman Department of Psychiatry, KEMU, Prof. Dr. Fareed A. Minhas and Prof Dr Saima Hamid from GIHD STMU and Prof Dr Asad Tameezuddin Nizami from Rawalpindi Medical University and others expressed their expert opinion.

Dr. Usman Hamdani, introduced Being – an international mental health initiative, which envisions a world where young people feel well and thrive, saying population of young people aged 10-24 in Pakistan is about 76.96 percent and facing challenges like economic constraints, social pressures, access to mental health services and stigma surrounding mental health.

“Being will work with young people to improve their mental health and wellbeing through research, innovation and ecosystem building, with a focus on prevention and promotion in 12 priority countries including Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Romania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Vietnam,” Dr. Hamdani informed.

He highlighted the need of representative high-quality studies to ascertain the actual burden of mental health issues in Pakistani youth, determine the drivers of youth mental health and develop and implement interventions and polices to nurture a healthy, happy and prosperous Pakistani nation.

Other experts maintained that in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) like Pakistan, up to 90 percent of young people’s mental health needs are unmet due to a lack of resources.

According to the mental health landscape analysis conducted in Pakistan, stress, anxiety, depression, drug abuse, suicidal ideations, aggression, hopelessness, helplessness, and lack of confidence are some of the most pressing mental health issues faced by the youth in Pakistan, they informed.

Former SAPM Dr. Zafar Mirza said people were now openly talking about mental health, showing that awareness about mental health issues is improving.

Dr. Mirza maintained that mental health is part of a social crisis being faced by Pakistan in addition to political and economic crisis, questioning how youth in Pakistan could be mentally healthy when 40 percent of children are malnourished and stunted, while millions of children are facing social media crisis as every child has a virtual identity, which is different from his or her actual identity. He urged people, especially youth facing mental health issues not to be ashamed of seeking mental health assistance. Dr. Abdul Wahab Yousafzai, head of psychiatry at Shifa International Hospital Islamabad, said in Malakand division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone, over 1,600 people died by suicide between 2018 and 2021.

“As per my own research, around 340 people committed suicide in first quarter of 2018 in Malakand division, while in Chitral, 700 people died by suicide in three years. Most of these people who ended their lives were young people, including adolescents,” Prof. Yousafzai added.

The panelists recommended scaling-up preventive and promotive psychosocial interventions using scalable platforms like educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities, training non-specialists in evidence-informed WHO/Unicef recommended low-intensity psychosocial interventions, promoting inter-sectoral collaborations, advocacy of youth mental health initiatives at ministry and provincial levels and promoting public-private partnership models.

Mental health experts from Indonesia, Egypt and Vietnam highlighted mental health issues faced by youth in their respective countries and efforts being made by the public and private sector institutions and organisations in dealing with the issues and challenges in providing mental health support to the affected populations.