Around 30 per cent spike in mental illnesses has been observed in Pakistan during the pandemic, as Covid-19 has triggered psychiatric ailments in people already prone to mental health issues, national and international experts said on Sunday. They also called for providing psycho-education to caregivers of psychiatric patients.
“At least 25 to 30 per cent increase in mental health issues has been observed in Pakistan during the pandemic, as the virus also triggered mental illness in people who recovered from the infectious disease,” said Prof Dr Asim Shah.
Dr Shah, who is the executive vice chair of psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, USA, was addressing a ceremony in Karachi.
“Most importantly, dementia has been observed in elderly patients who recovered from Covid-19. In these circumstances, there is a need to provide counselling and help to caregivers to prevent them from getting depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.”
Addressing the inauguration of the Holistic Health & Wellness Centre at the Pak International Hospital in DHA, Karachi, Dr Shah made it clear that without educating family members and caregivers, people facing mental health issues cannot be treated effectively.
“In the developed world, caregivers are given equal importance and are given psycho-education regularly, because caring for a loved one strains even the most resilient people,” he pointed out.
“So, it is immensely important to preserve the physical and mental well-being of caregivers too,” he stressed, saying that without giving importance to caregivers, patients with psychiatric illnesses cannot be treated.
“People with psychiatric illnesses can’t take care of themselves, they can’t take medicines on their own, so they need to be taken care of by their family members. Often these caregivers become angry, frustrated, agitated, exhausted and depressed. They also need help and counselling to remain physically and mentally fit.”
Calling for providing psycho-education to family members and caregivers on a regular basis, Dr Shah said they need to be educated about the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dementia, as well as mental disorders of children like autism and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), so they can help them live a better life.
“In case of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, patients don’t take medicines themselves, so their families need to help them take medicines regularly,” he pointed out.
“In dementia, family members often argue with the patients, but caregivers need to be taught that they should not argue or be harsh to such patients,” he stressed, saying that elderly patients with dementia lose cognitive abilities, and caregivers should take care of this aspect too.
Dr Shah also spoke of the impact of Covid-19 on the mental health of children, stressing the need to regularly talk to children who have faced social isolation and trauma during this pandemic, warning that this impact can have long-term mental health consequences for the children if left untreated.
Psychiatrist and former Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre dean Prof Iqbal Afridi said they have established the Holistic Health & Wellness Centre to help families and caregivers who have been taking care of patients of mental illnesses for decades and need counselling to continue helping their loved ones.
“If caregivers aren’t provided help, it can prove dangerous for both the patients and the caregivers. We have seen cases where caregivers not only harmed the patient but also tried to harm themselves,” he remarked.
“Caregivers can even kill the patient and commit suicide due to extreme stress and agitation,” he warned, mentioning that every Sunday they would arrange sessions for caregivers on different mental health issues.
World Psychiatric Association President Prof Afzal Javed lauded the services of Prof Afridi for launching the centre for caregivers and offered the association’s help to enhance the facilities at the centre, saying that young psychiatrists need to be trained to help family members and caregivers of psychiatric patients.
Lauding the services of Dr Shah, he invited both him and Prof Afridi to participate in the international conference of PSA being held in Thailand in August, and conduct a whole session on various aspects of psychiatry, mental well-being of caregivers and related issues.
Eminent paediatric haematologist Prof Saqib Ansari, Prof Dr Shehla Nasim, Dr Qamar, Rozeena Dharwarwala, Hamza Afridi and others also spoke on the occasion.
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