Destigmatization of mental health, President Dr Arif Alvi on Wednesday said that a well-integrated and effective awareness campaign about mental health and reducing the stigma against mental illnesses were essential for building a healthy society.

Awareness, destigmatization of mental health vital to build a healthy society President

The president, chairing a meeting on mental health at Aiwan-e-Sadr, said also emphasized the efforts to strengthen the existing infrastructure and create awareness using online mental health portals, virtual programs, artificial intelligence, mental health chatbots, helplines, mobilizing relevant government and other stakeholders, and forging public-private partnerships. Dr Irfan Mustafa, Chief Executive Officer of Taskeen Health Initiative, a non-profit organization working for the promotion of well-being and prevention of mental illness in Pakistan, attended the meeting. The president said there were more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, including behavioural or emotional disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, and schizophrenia etc, which if diagnosed and managed at an early stage, could be cured in a cost-effective manner or incurring no cost at all. This, he said, would reduce the burden on the system of curative care which was expensive, unavailable to most of the population and lacking in trained and qualified human resources. destigmatization of mental health, The president noted with concern that mental disorders accounted for more than 4% of the total disease burden with a higher prevalence of mental health burden among women. He added that there were an estimated 24 million people in Pakistan who were in need of psychiatric assistance but unfortunately Pakistan only had 0.19 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. This is one of the lowest numbers in the Eastern Mediterranean region and the world and was alarming and expeditious actions were needed to reverse the situation, he added. President Alvi emphasized that mental healthcare needed to be incorporated as a core service in the primary healthcare system by educating and training the required human resources in the primary healthcare sector. He added that the existing programs should be upscaled through public-private partnerships, bringing necessary legislative reforms and developing collaborative networking between the stakeholders in the public and private sectors.

The president said that there was a need to launch a national mental health care plan which may include public awareness campaigns, a national mental health helpline, integration of mental health in basic health units, training of primary healthcare workers, and upscaling of existing programs through public-private partnerships. He further said that collaborative efforts among all stakeholders were needed to enlarge the reach of mental health facilities, including the provision of counseling and early diagnostic tools to the people, especially to the unprivileged population in underserved areas. President Alvi called for the partnership of mental health stakeholders with the leaders of print and electronic media as well as digital and social media to create awareness on a Fastrack basis. “Mental health is key for building a healthy society to ensure the progress and development of the country and the prosperity of the people”, destigmatization of mental health,  The president said that dissemination of mental health-related information to the general public through Ulema and Pesh Imams and mosques would help in breaking the taboos attached to mental health and changing people’s attitudes and behaviours towards mental health and well-being. He also called for launching social media campaigns, community-based video screening, and engaging schools, colleges and universities in the mental health awareness campaign. The president said that due to the concerted efforts and leadership provided by First Lady Samina Alvi, they had succeeded in creating a fully integrated breast cancer awareness ecosystem, therefore the lesson learned from the breast cancer awareness campaign, polio campaign and COVID-19 strategy could also be used to strengthen and fortify the campaign for creating awareness about mental health.

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