Saturday December 04, 2021

‘Pakistan’s mental health care system woefully deficient’

October 22, 2021

Islamabad : Home to about 200 million people, Pakistan has one of the poorest mental health indicators in the world. Limited professionals are available for patients suffering from such disorders, with the ratio being 1:100,000 patients. The paucity of mental health professionals creates a massive treatment gap, leaving more than 90% of the people with common mental disorders untreated.

Professor Rizwan Taj, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Dean of FMTI, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) shared these data while addressing an event organised in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) to commemorate World Mental Health Day. The WHO Representative Dr. Palitha Mahipala was also present on the occasion. The ceremony was started with a skit presented by the Psychiatry Department to emphasize the need for early detection and appropriate intervention for the treatment of mental health issues. Dr. Rizwan termed the day as a valuable opportunity to highlight a neglected area of health and to plan and promote mental well-being, particularly in the backdrop of the ongoing prolonged Covid-19 crises. He said platforms like these are important to build an understanding of the fact that mental health issues affect people from all walks of life, transcending boundaries, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The psychological health care system is woefully deficient in Pakistan, and the way it is managed explains why accessing psychological help is still taboo. Nearly one-third of the Pakistani population is suffering from some form of mental disorder; 50% is suffering from psychological distress and depression, which are responsible for 90 percent of the total suicide cases. Future complacency in this regard could spell disaster for the public health system,” Dr. Rizwan warned.

Referring to the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, Dr. Rizwan said, extensive lockdowns have triggered panic, fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and stress in society. People staying at home in quarantine and self-isolation have experienced both physical and psychological pressure. Moreover, they have lost their jobs and are terrified due to the impact of the pandemic. The fear of Covid-19 is leading to suicide in Pakistan as well as neighbouring Asian countries, he stated.

“Given the limited fiscal space available to governments for strengthening of the mental health care system, it is imperative that efforts should at least be made to sensitize people that mental disorders are just like physical disorders. There is a need to bring this topic on the radar of policy makers to promote understanding and education, reduce stigma, and to protect the basic rights of the vulnerable,” Dr. Rizwan stated.

The growing population of drug users, widening treatment gap, urbanization, economic disparity, the poor threshold of tolerance, and disasters and pandemics were termed as key additional challenges, which all stakeholders need to overcome through collective efforts, it was stated.

Dr. Rizwan said PIMS is the only public sector psychiatric service in Islamabad. He made a mention of the interventions made ever since the launch of the ‘We Care’ programme in February last year. “We have carried out 16 sessions so far. Recently, with the support of WHO, we have done the groundwork for the National Mental Health helpline,” he informed.