Mental Health And Wellbeing Is A Global Priority

WHO recognizes World Mental Health Day in the month of October every year. There are endless numbers of calamities, natural and human-made, that are wreaking havoc on our mental health and wellbeing.

Mental Health And Wellbeing Is A Global Priority

The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes World Mental Health Day in the month of October every year. There are endless numbers of calamities, natural and human-made, that are wreaking havoc on our mental health and wellbeing.

We are dealing with a global Covid-19 pandemic which is in its third year, long-drawn-out wars and conflicts, climate change, weakening economic conditions, discrimination and violence, injustice and inequality, and so on. No nation is immune to these catastrophes and tragedies.

This year’s theme for Mental Health Day is as pertinent as it gets: make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority. Often misunderstood, stigmatized, and left untreated, bad mental health has become a crisis of grave proportions. After the first year of Covid-19, the continued prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25 per cent, where young people and women were affected the most.

Pakistan is home to about 220 million people, and has one of the poorest mental health indicators, with only 500 psychiatrists. According to WHO figures, in developing countries like Pakistan, one percent of the population suffers from severe and 10 per cent from mild mental disorders. According to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD), mental illnesses constitute 10.5 per cent of the GBD. We have only one psychiatrist for every 10,000 persons suffering from any type of mental disorder, and one child psychiatrist for every million children suffering from mental health issues.

This lack of mental health professionals in Pakistan creates a massive treatment gap, as it leaves more than 90 per cent of the people with common mental disorders untreated. Around 10-16 per cent of the population, more than 14 million citizens, suffers from mild to moderate psychiatric illnesses. Common disorders include depression (6 per cent), schizophrenia (1.5 per cent), and epilepsy (1–2 per cent). By region, Lahore has the highest number of depressive disorders, 53.4 per cent as compared to Quetta (43.9 per cent) and Karachi (35.7 per cent).

At some workplaces, women go through mentally traumatic experiences. In a country like Pakistan, where survival is barely managed and economic conditions are stifling, women have to deal with the additional burden of gender-based violence, child labour, child marriages, unwanted pregnancies, drug addiction, political turmoil, and frequent changes in the social fabric of the country. A lot of unpaid labour by women in rural areas is also a cause of depression, substance and alcohol misuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and general worsening of psychological wellbeing.

Another major hindrance in treating mental health problems is that a majority of psychiatric patients seek treatment from non-professional healers using psychobabble – psychological jargon used inaccurately to talk about personal or mental problem, or religious healers who believe that mental disorders are caused by supernatural forces such as spirit possession or are some form of Divine tests.

Since mental health services are available in big cities and there are many districts and even divisions where no psychiatrist and psychologist is available, treatment for mental health services needs to be integrated and incorporated as a core service in primary healthcare and supported by expert services with coordination of teaching hospitals through telemental health. The focus should be on promoting mental health throughout the lifespan to ensure a healthy lifestyle, starting for pre-national, natal and post-natal care including children, adolescents to prevent mental disorders.

Advocacy is required that there is no health without mental health and investing in socioeconomic development is not possible without addressing and investing in mental health and wellbeing. School mental health services will be useful in this regard to raise awareness that it is more important to invest in good antenatal care, nutrition, etc, during pregnancy, delivery, immunization and good education instead of making unnecessary expenses for clothes and other stuff that are used for only a few hours.

We need to provide sufficient training for medical and general practitioners and mental health professionals to meet the current demands, especially after Covid-19 and the recent floods. Another immediate need is the socio-economic empowerment of women by improving access to education and microcredit schemes. Community and day centres at the district level must be built, and stress prevention programmes should be made mandatory at workplaces. A collaborative approach is required between the public and private sectors, and non-governmental organizations need to promote mental health care and advocate for changes in mental health policy.

We also require serious attention in catering to children’s mental health services as more than half of our population is below 18 years of age, and only a few trained personnel in the field of child psychiatry. A developing country like Pakistan, which is riddled with poverty, a low literacy rate, and a dearth of trained professionals, deserves reconfiguration in its approach towards uplifting public health and psychiatric care.

We need immediate responsiveness to the development and implementation of a strong policy embedded in our health system, the robust role of education institutions and professional bodies with a special emphasis on behavioural sciences, sufficient financial resources, adequate infrastructural development, public-private partnership, ample academic and research endeavours, and necessary civic amenities, to work for an integrated national mental health policy.

We need better health systems that will provide easy access to quality mental health services through family practitioners, telemedicine providers, and digital services. A rehabilitation centre for children and adults, who have been vulnerable to severe trauma, is also much-needed.

Mental health itself cannot be seen; however, its presence is easily manifested in one’s physical health as emotional ills also deteriorate the quality of our lives as well as that of people around us.

Let us commit to acknowledging the importance of mental health and wellbeing, be more communicative and receptive about it, highlight its presence, and prioritize its treatment to ameliorate the situation. The green ribbon is an international symbol of mental health awareness. Let’s wear a green ribbon to show our support for promotive, preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitative mental health services that are available at the doorstep of people where they live, study or work.

Originally published at The News