Pakistan is home to around 200 million people. Despite such a huge population, the country has “one of the poorest mental health indicators” worldwide and “less than 500 psychiatrists,” according to the Lancet Psychiatry. The discrepancy between the high population and corresponding medical support for mental health in Pakistan raises a need to investigate the causes, statistics and potential solutions regarding mental health in the country.
The Stigma and Spiritualism
Around 90% of the population of Pakistan with common mental health disorders do not have access to treatment. And the British Asian Trust reports that roughly “50 million people in the country suffer from mental health disorders.” Also, “stigma, awareness and a lack of service” are all potential explanations for the mental health issues in Pakistan.
There is a common stigmatization of mental health and its effects in Pakistan, thus impacting the lack of awareness and support for those in the country struggling with mental health disorders. Along with this, there is also a recurring association between mental health and spiritualism. According to Sehat Kahani, people often use supernatural causes to explain mental health. In addition, communities look to religion as a cure for mental health issues. While religious observance may be able provide contentment for those suffering, an over-reliance on it in place of psychiatric health could actually hinder progress.
Poverty Impacting Mental Health
Sehat Kahani also suggests that as poverty is a prominent issue within Pakistan, mental health support is a “luxury” for many people in the country. As a result, there is a growing inaccessibility to essential mental health support services for a majority of those with mental health disorders.
According to the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience, there is no political or governmental policy regarding the problem of mental health in Pakistan. An absence of mental health practices within the routines and schedules of trainee doctors bolsters this lack of awareness.
According to the World Bank, poverty in Pakistan could reach 37.2% in 2023. This equates to almost 3 million Pakistani people living in poverty. There is a significant cost to private mental health care in the country. Dr. Shoaib Ahmad, the psychiatric department head at Karachi Dow’s University of Health Sciences, notes that patients have to “pay Rs200,000 to Rs300,000 in advance to a well-known therapist in advance to book an appointment.” For those living in impoverished conditions, this could be massively unaffordable.
Making a Change
The COSARAF foundation, alongside the CareTech foundation and the British Asian Trust, has partnered to invest £1 million to deliver changes in mental health wellbeing and provisions in Pakistan. The program will cover access to clinical mental health services as well as access to mental health support for individuals suffering from mental health issues within their own communities as well as an increase in overall awareness.
According to COSARAF, the program aims to “enable 100,000 people with mental health problems to access mental health support within their communities, provide access to clinical mental health services for 10,000 people and ensure that 500,000 people have increased awareness of issues relating to mental health, leading to reduced stigma around mental health.”
In response to the urgent need for improved mental health support in Pakistan, the COSARAF Foundation, the CareTech Foundation and the British Asian Trust have joined forces to implement initiatives that aim to make a positive change. Through increased access to clinical services, community-based support and heightened awareness, these initiatives aim to benefit thousands of individuals and contribute to reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. This collaborative effort holds the potential to create a brighter future for mental health in Pakistan.
– Ibrahim Azam