Let’s talk about depression

In Pakistan, mental illness is stereotyped as madness

Hafsah Sarfraz April 06, 2017
The writer is a freelance journalist and a graduate of the University of London. She is passionate about women empowerment and gender equality

You are an independent young human being, fairly strong and confident enough to cope with the complexities of life. You are doing well at work and have a decent personal life until one day when you start feeling like you can’t cope with life anymore. Things that you were passionate and excited about stop seeming so. You find yourself doing less, going out less and looking for ways to avoid interacting with people. Your friends and family start noticing and your manager points it out but there is very little you have the energy to do about it.

There is a subtle change in the way you start looking at life but you still can’t exactly spot where and what went wrong. This happens and one of the causes of it could be depression.

Depression, which is known as depressive disorder, is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how people feel and the way they think and act. Fortunately, it is treatable but currently 350 million people around the world are suffering from the depressive disorder. It is thus very aptly that this World Health Day’s theme is “Depression: Let’s Talk”. Observed on April 7th this year’s World Health Day aims to eliminate the taboo attached to depression.

The theme suggests that only by talking about it, we will be able to reduce the prevalence of this disorder among people globally. However, when we address depression at a local level, we need to do much more than that.

In Pakistan, mental illness is stereotyped as madness and it is this stereotype, which hinders Pakistanis from seeking treatment. On a local level, we need to create awareness first. There is a dire need to educate people about mental health and how it is an essential part of the overall health. Mental illnesses occur due to neuro-biochemical changes and can affect anyone. Just like one seeks a cure for flu, headache and fever, mental illnesses also warrant proper treatment and therefore should be taken seriously.

We also need to dig deeper and look into the causes of depression. Some of the most popular causes of depression include poverty, unemployment and lack of education. Ironically, these are also the biggest challenges Pakistan is facing today but until they get addressed, there has to be another solution to cure depression.

In Pakistan, 50 million people are suffering from common mental disorders. According to this year’s statistics, depression affects 44% of the entire population in Pakistan. Its prevalence is higher in women at 57.5% and 25% in men. If these figures are not alarming, I am not sure what is. Yet, we are not looking for solutions.

In a nation, where 44% of the entire population has depression, there are only 750 trained psychiatrists. In Pakistan, there is one psychiatrist for every 10,000 patients suffering mental disorders and one child psychiatrist for four million children suffering from mental health issues. The country has four major psychiatric hospitals for the entire population.

How are we going to tackle the problem when we don’t have enough of those who cure it? How are we going to cure depression without hospitals that deal with it? Yet, we are doing nothing about it. We are not talking about it. Our state is not initiating the establishment of specialised hospitals that deal with mental illnesses. Our youth is not encouraged to take psychiatry as a profession and until this happens, it is going to be a challenge to cure a disease that 44% of the entire population is suffering.

In a world where depression is becoming increasingly popular, maybe we need to change ourselves as individuals too. Maybe we need to become more open and less judgmental to those who are suffering. This World Health Day, let’s resolve to bring a change at an individual level too. As a nation, let’s start stressing the importance of mental health and its treatment because as humans, we are all susceptible to all forms of diseases; mental or physical. Let’s also keep our doors open for tea and conversation with friends, family and co-workers who are going through a hard time because it is no good suffering in silence.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2017.

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