Friday September 29, 2023

Mental health

October 19, 2020

World Mental Health Day was recently observed all over the world, including Pakistan, on October 10. Quite a few professionals published interesting, informative articles in newspapers. Pakistan is no longer a 'backward' country and these days we see the country observe all international days - even days and events like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine Day, Teacher’s Day, etc.

It is estimated that half a billion individuals around the world suffer from some sort of neuro-psychiatric disorder. Only about one percent of these are treated as psychiatric patients; the rest remain an invisible majority. The majority of those remaining untreated are in developing countries. Fortunately, times are changing and these days there is much more awareness and acceptance than there used to be.

These days, we see that there is a large number of competent psychologists and psychiatrists to help those in need, and both patients and their parents are no longer shy of talking to professionals, their friends and relatives. The Jinnah Post-graduate University and Hospital, Dow University of Health Sciences, the University of Karachi, the Aga Khan University Hospital and some private universities, to name but a few – all have qualified and experienced specialists available to teach students and to treat patients.

Mental disorders have been known and dreaded since antiquity and patients were often hidden away from public view and kept in isolation. In our society, primitive superstitions and prejudices exist, even today. Many families consider mental illness to be the consequence of possession by the devil or an unfriendly 'Jinn' and the help of 'Pirs' is sought instead of medical assistance, resulting in exorcism rather than treatment, with all the consequences of such. It can truly be said that ignorance breeds fear and leads to dogmatic beliefs and superstitious practices. Even in Western countries such an attitude was not uncommon in the past and the study of human behaviour and psychiatric disorders is quite recent.

Not that very long ago, Sir Karl Popper, one of the world’s greatest philosopher-scientists, described psychology and psychiatry as "non-scientific, soothsaying arts that defy verifiability” in his book titled 'Conjectures and Refutations'. Since the time that opinion was expressed, a lot of research into the physiology of the human brain and behaviour has been carried out and attitudes have changed dramatically.

Mental illness, like any other disease, is being treated by finding the biological cause of the condition and by expert counselling and medication by psychologists and psychiatrists. Mental illness may be due to the dysfunction of genes, but there are also many other important contributing factors. For instance, alcohol abuse and drug addiction have become major global problems.

About 25 years ago, my medical colleagues and I realized that there was a dire need for a state-of-the-art centre to treat patients with mental health problems. I spoke to Prof Dr Haroon Ahmad, an eminent psychiatrist, then head of department at Jinnah Hospital, who was known to my medical director from KRL. We discussed the possibility of setting one up such an institute. Gen Moinuddin Haider, then governor of Sindh, gave a helping hand and allotted us a good piece of land adjacent to the new campus of Dow University.

My friends from Dubai, notably Haji Abdul Razzaq Susti, Mr S M Farooq and Mr Saeed Kushtiwala all joined hands in this noble cause. That institute has now been functional for more than 20 years and is providing excellent facilities to those in need. A few years ago, the institute was given to the Dow University of Health Sciences and it is now run by a competent and experienced psychiatrist, Brig Muhamad Shuaib.