Just like physical health, mental health is also very important and must not be ignored. Mental wellbeing provides you resilience, inner strength, and the ability to adapt according to the changing circumstances. Even though perceptions around mental health have started to change in developed nations, third world countries like Pakistan still have a long way to go.
In Pakistan, it is still considered a taboo in some places to talk about mental health, particularly in rural areas. In some areas, mental patients are said to be possessed by the devil. Instead of taking patients to a mental health practitioner, the caretakers take them to local peers for exorcism.
According to a study, mental health problems in the country have reached an appalling level in the last decade. One key factor behind this growth is the violence and the wave of terrorism that led to disruption in the social structure.
Increased exposure to traumatic events is usually linked to the greater prevalence of mental health issues. The continuous bloodshed and threat to life can have damaging effects on the psychological health of many people.
In addition to that, societal issues, generational gaps, educational burden, relationship problems, and lack of formal psychological counseling are also adding to the problem. If we look at the latest statistics coming out of survey reports, they are staggering.
In Pakistan, nearly 34 percent of the population is suffering from some sort of depressive disorder or anxiety. To break this down, the prevalence in Sindh is 16 percent, in Punjab 8 percent, in Balochistan 40 percent, and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa it is 5 percent. Needless to say, this is not a small number and merits immediate action.
Common mental health issues have been identified in both the urban and rural population and there appears to be a positive association with a lack of social support and with socio-economic adversities.
Depressive and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent, and bipolar, schizophrenia, psychosomatic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder come next. This is sometimes combined with the problems of drug addiction and substance misuse.
Mental health problems are often not reported because of social stigma as in some places, it is considered a threat to family pride. In fact, sometimes even students are discouraged from opting psychiatry as a career. Patients are often very conscious about going to psychiatrists, as they do not want to be seen there by anyone.
The matter is worse for girls, as their guardians believe that once they are tagged as mental patients, they will not get good proposals and it will become difficult to marry them off.
There are also a lot of myths about mentally ill patients and they face discrimination because of that. For instance, there is a misunderstanding that such patients are violent and fearful. Secondly, there is a misconception that since mentally ill individuals are actually possessed by adevil, interacting with them is not safe.
All these misconceptions further marginalize the mentally ill patients. That’s why it is essential that steps are taken to create awareness about mental health problems. If left untreated, mental health problems can escalate to a very dangerous level.
If you feel that you or loved ones are suffering from a mental health problem, take it as seriously as a physical health issue. Instead of ridiculing the patient or relying on some home-made tricks, find a psychiatrist nearby and seek professional advice. More importantly, encourage the patients to fight the illness and support them.