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January 13, 2018

Hidden costs


January 13, 2018

While Pakistan has paid a heavy price in terms of money and the loss of life over the last two decades as a consequence of the war on terror, the psychological impact on people has gone largely ignored. A noted psychiatrist, speaking at a seminar in Peshawar, has now offered us some insight into just how high this price has been. He has said that the number of Pakistanis and Afghans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and various depressive disorders has risen sharply over the last 17 years. The doctor has also pointed out the impact this has had on children. While 18 years ago hardly one percent suffered depression, the number now stands at over 13 percent. In areas like Waziristan where conflict has been seen by almost everyone closely, the figure could be higher. Mental health issues are not well understood in the country, and of course very few people have access to professional help – which is also expensive. It has also been pointed out that medical practitioners often dismiss psychological problems as insignificant or state they have no means to help the sufferers. Experts have emphasised that there is an overwhelming need to create more awareness about the problem through the media and by involving community groups. The attitudes towards mental health problems and the stigma against seeking help need to be altered.

It may be noted that studies conducted in Swat after the Taliban hold over the area was ended in 2009 found that most children of school-going age had suffered severely in terms of mental wellbeing from all that they had encountered. This was reflected in their drawings and in their writings. These children were encouraged to share their feelings with professionals through art therapy. These exercises rarely happen, notably in the more under-privileged areas of the country. There is a need for family counselling, awareness workshops and encouragement for psychologists to work with those who have experienced militancy or displacement was pointed out. The psychological aspects of conflict and terror too often go unrecognised. Clearly there is a need to understand them better and to help all people, especially children, to overcome them.

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