Improved mental health will remain a remote hope until people are treated with dignity, provided education and lifted out of poverty
ealth is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of a disease or infirmity, according to eminent psychiatrist Prof Dr Muhammad Iqbal Afridi.
The psychiatrist calls for setting up rehabilitation centres, especially dealing with mental illness, throughout Karachi. “Even though mental illnesses have been widespread in Pakistan, efforts to rehabilitate the sufferers have hardly ever been made,” he says.
Prof Afridi believes in human beings having a meaning and purpose to their life and a positive outlook on the external environment for them to achieve a sense of self-satisfaction.
According to the World Federation of Mental Health and World Health Organisation’s definition, mental health is described as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his/ her own abilities and can cope with the normal stresses of life, he says. “Good mental health is the ability to function under adversity,” the doctor adds.
Elaborating further, Prof Afridi asserts that dignity is strongly linked to an individual’s respect, recognition, self-worth and the ability to make choices. “The shame associated with mental illnesses has led to millions of people silently suffering, consequently aggravating the factors from which the illness developed in the first place. It has proved to be the biggest hurdle in curing mental diseases.”
He also urges the authorities to initiate community-based mental health programmes and make efficient use of telemedicine in order to make the treatments easily accessible in rural areas.
Karwan-i-Hayat’s (a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation) president, Saleem Uddin Ahmed too endorses the notion that people suffering from mental illnesses have the capacity to be an effective part of the society if provided timely quality treatment.
About 13,000 to 15,000 people in Pakistan end their lives every year, while the number of attempts remains even higher, as almost 200,000 people try to end their lives per annum in the country, according to Dr Murad Moosa Khan, a professor of psychiatry.
Prof Afridi asserts that dignity is strongly linked with an individual’s respect, recognition, self-worth and the ability to make choices. “The shame associated with mental illnesses has led to millions of people silently suffering, consequently aggravating the factors from which the illness developed in the first place. It has proved to be the biggest hurdle in curing mental diseases.”
Quoting the French philosopher Albert Camus, Dr Khan, who has conducted extensive research on suicide in Pakistan, says, “suicide is a fundamental question of philosophy“. The doctor raises questions of dignity associated with mental health and says 35 to 40 percent of Pakistanis are living in a compromised state of mental well-being. Some existentialist thinkers and philosophers even glorify suicide.
According to Dr Khan, improved mental health will remain a remote hope until people are treated with dignity, provided education and lifted out of poverty.
“Human dignity is the most important part of human rights,” he observes but laments that barring Aga Khan University Hospital and Dow University of Health Sciences, no medical university has conducted examinations for the field of psychiatry.
“The biggest problem is corruption,” he says, adding that even doctors are bribed by multinational companies who send them abroad in return for them prescribing the companies’ medicines.
Through transfer pricing, giant multinational pharmaceutical companies transfer millions of dollars from the precarious foreign reserves in Pakistan as elsewhere in Third World countries. They buy cheap raw materials and sell them under different labels.
Furthermore, they bribe pharmacies who suggest to patients that very expensive drugs manufactured by multinational pharmaceutical companies are better than those manufactured by local companies.
“Mental health should not be seen in isolation,” adds Dr Khan. He believes that it needs to be integrated into the primary health category. “The moral values of a society can be measured by how it treats vulnerable individuals,” says the psychiatrist.
In an exclusive interview with this scribe, Brig Dr Shoaib Ahmed, executive director and head of Psychiatry Department at Dow University of Health Sciences, says there are 2,070 beds in government mental hospitals, including 1,400 in Lahore, 450 in Hyderabad, 120 in Peshawar and 100 in Dhodial (Mansehra).
The psychiatric in-patient facility in the private sector in Karachi has 612 beds, and psychiatric units at teaching hospitals 870, he says.
The writer is a journalist and peace activist. He writes on health, heritage and environmental issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org