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October 11, 2020

Mental illnesses on the rise due to Covid-19: experts

Karachi

October 11, 2020

The novel coronavirus has started seriously affecting the mental health of people, including healthcare providers, in Pakistan and the rest of the world, and many people are now reporting symptoms like post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive equivalents and anxiety. Increasing incidence of substance abuse is also being observed in the world, including Pakistan.

The situation is far worse in war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan, while countries facing a serious economic crisis like Pakistan have been also badly affected by mental health issues during the Covid-19 pandemic, said national and international mental health experts while speaking at an international conference at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) on Saturday.

The conference was organised by the Pakistan Psychiatric Association (PPA) and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), Najmuddin Auditorium, and it was addressed by the president-elect of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), Prof Dr Afzal Javed, eminent psychiatrist Prof Haroon Ahmed, President PPA Prof Iqbal Afridi, British Pakistani Psychiatrists Association (BPPA) Chairman Dr Qaiser Abbas Zaidi, former Test cricketer Younus Khan, Dr Unaiza Niaz, Prof Lindsay Thompson from the University of Edinburg and several other national and international mental health experts.

On the occasion, Pakistan Psychiatric Association President Prof Iqbal Afridi announced that they were starting Prof Haroon Ahmed Research Award in the field of psychiatry, and every year, one top researcher of Pakistan would be awarded Prof Haroon Ahmed Research Award and a Rs150,000 cash prize. The PPA would contribute Rs1 million for the award, while Prof Haroon Ahmed also announced contributing Rs1 million for the award.

Speaking as the chief guest at the mental health conference with the theme “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access. Everyone, Everywhere”, Prof Haroon Ahmed said Covid-19 had started affecting the mental health of people all over the world, and in Pakistan people with a newer type of depression and symptoms of PTSD were approaching psychiatrists for treatment.

“People are complaining of symptoms like the post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to Covid-19- related stress and experiences. A newer type of depression, which is not clinically depression, is also being observed where people are feeling of loneliness and lack of interest in daily life. These issues have a close relation to Covid-19 and its impacts on the daily life of people.”

Prof Ahmed maintained that it is heartening to note that people are breaking the taboos and publically admitting that they are under treatment for depression, anxiety and other mental disorders. He said 70 per cent of the depression is due to biochemical imbalance in the brain, which is not the fault of the patient.

“I have been saying this for the last several decades that there is no need to hide mental illnesses,” he said and added that mental health was given a low priority but it was high prevalence health issue in our society.

President-elect WPA Prof Afzal Javed claimed that the prevalence of mental health issues was not less than cancer or cardiac ailments in the world, and it was estimated that now 25 to 30 per cent of the world’s population was suffering from one or other kind of mental illness. He added that it was the right time that more resources were allocated for the mental wellbeing, treatment and cure in countries like Pakistan.

Congratulating the PPA and the JPMC’s department of psychiatry on organising the successful event, Prof Afzal Javed claimed that several countries of the world had started observing Covid-19 mental health issues, especially those facing continuing conflicts and economic crisis like Pakistan, and said it was the right time that the mental health institutes and this important area of medical sciences were provided with ample resources to deal with the upcoming pandemic of mental health issues.

PPA President and Dean JPMC Prof Iqbal Afridi said it was time people also started investing in their mental health, which meant that they should start doing exercise to prevent themselves from obesity, stop using drugs, and reduce their use of mobile phones and computers to stay mentally healthy. Talking about Covid-19-related health issues, Prof Afridi said the coronavirus anxiety and phobia as well as touch-deprivation phenomenon were some of the pandemic-related mental issues which were affecting the lives of people.