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Friday January 28, 2022

Need for help

December 02, 2021

There is an urgent need for more care for people suffering mental health issues in Pakistan, including depression and related problems. According to the statistics available with the Pakistan Association for Mental Health, at least 50 million Pakistanis suffer mental sickness of one kind or another, ranging from anxiety and depression, to psychosis, schizophrenia and more serious mental disorders. The result is now emerging before us. It stems from both untended fragile mental health and the debilitating effects of depression due to stress, in particular financial stress which has literally driven people to desperate measures including suicide.

A week after an unemployed journalist killed himself in Karachi, a 28-year-old father of three children has done the same by jumping from the third floor of a mall in Karachi. According to reports, he had been suffering a sense of helplessness and depression for some months after being unable to obtain a job and fend for his family. This young man, age 28 years was educated, his mother is a schoolteacher and his father worked at respectable jobs throughout his career. We wonder then what is happening to those who are in an even worse situation, as far as family income and support goes. We need to understand that apart from all other emergencies the country is facing – climate change, education, violence against women – we are also facing a huge mental health emergency. The state must provide urgent help for those contemplating or thinking about suicide, including help lines and of course far more psychologists and psychiatrists. At present, there are 342 licensed psychiatrists in Pakistan and 478 psychologists. This is simply not enough to meet the needs of a population.

Coupled with this problem is that of the very real insecurity being felt by near everyone in the country. Inflation for November crossed the two-digit mark reaching 11.5 percent, the highest in 20 months. This means more burden on households and more difficulty in acquiring items of daily use. The government should be acting urgently to tackle the problem and to help those in need of mental health support as well as assistance to provide them a means to live. This is true not only of the very poor, but also the salaried middle classes. We are now in a situation where we can no longer delay the requirement of people for more healthcare and more support for those who are in danger of falling victim to crippling depression in the worst possible way. As in other countries of the world, we need support centres. It shouldn’t require a heatbreaking tragedy to finally spur us into action but it would be even worse if we ended up continuing as before.

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