Only 400 trained psychiatrists for nearly 50 million people with common mental disorders in Pakistan
There is a perception that people with mental illness are violent, look different from others, can never get better or cannot be productive members of society. These inaccurate and misleading stereotypes impact adversely on people’s struggle to cope with their condition.
These were the views of Dr Ayesha Mian, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the Aga Khan University (AKU) while addressing journalists at a dialogue on mental health at the Karachi Press Club (KPC). The session was organized by AKU in coordination with the club’s Health Committee.
“Studies show that people with mental illness are much more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator. Media should come forward and be strong partners against this social bias,” she stressed. “Family members, friends and the society in general have a vital role in helping people recover from mental illness. They need positive attitude and acceptance of their conditions.”
It is estimated that approximately 50 million people suffer from common mental disorders in Pakistan. The illness afflicts 15 to 35 million adults, which is approximately 10 to 20 per cent of the population. Additionally, approximately 20 million children, or over 10 per cent of the population, need attention from mental health practitioners. Unfortunately, there are only 400 trained psychiatrists in the country – meaning that there is roughly one psychiatrist available per half-million people.
Dr Mian explained that mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions that affect mood, thinking and behavior. People go through periods when they feel emotions such as stress and grief, but symptoms of mental illnesses last longer than normal and are often not a reaction to daily events. When symptoms become severe enough to interfere with a person’s ability to perform day-to-day chores, they may be considered to have a significant mental illness.
She described factors that may lead to depression, anxiety and addictive behaviors, and eating disorders – stressful life situations, use of alcohol or recreational drugs, imbalance of a chemical substance in the brain, and genetic disorder or having a blood relative with a mental illness. Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness.
“While not all mental illnesses are preventable, some changes in lifestyle can significantly help. Be an organised person in your routine life, take wise and timely decisions, and take good care of yourself with healthy eating, regular physical activity and sufficient sleep – usually seven to eight hours for adults. Avoid conflicts in personal as well as professional life, try to participate in social activities, and get together with family or friends regularly. Avoid alcohol and drug use,” said Dr Mian.
“Pay attention to warning signs, for example, inability to cope with daily problems or stress, and have an evaluation by a mental health or other healthcare professional. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and therapy or counselling.”
On the occasion, Dr Mian also informed that AKU’s 19th National Health Sciences Research Symposium will focus on mind and brain. Starting from November 4, the annual conference will bring together hundreds of national and international healthcare professionals working in the field of neuroscience.
Apart from the reporters of the print and electronic media, the session was also attended by Professor of Neurology at AKU Dr Saad Shafqat, Secretary General of KPC Alauddin Khanzada, Secretary of Karachi Union of Journalists Dastoor Shoib Ahmed, and the club’s Health Committee members, including Waqar Bhatti and Hamid Rehman Awan.