KARACHI: Depression is on the rise and is set to become the second most-prevalent disease by the year 2020 and even the largest by 2030. This eye-opening statement, endorsed by the World Health Organisation, was related by Betty Kitchener, the CEO of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), Australia.
She was speaking at the launch of Mashal — a mental health initiative — undertaken by the Aman Foundation at the Aman House on Saturday evening.
According to a report by the Mashal team, “Over 30 to 40 per cent of the adult population in Karachi may be suffering from common mental disorders.” The report added that there are at least 250-300 reported suicides and approximately 2,500 to 6,000 attempted suicides every year.
It also highlights the prevalence of child mental health problems such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and other emotional and behavioural problems that largely remain undetected. Due to illitracy, a large number of these mental disorders are believed to be the work of supernatural beings and witchcraft. They are thus left undiagnosed and stigmatised.
Mashal CEO, Dr Saadia Quraishy, claimed that depression was a problem that afflicted people across the globe. “The solution is increased awareness of the underlying issues,” she claimed. Through Mashal, the Aman Foundation aims to create awareness among the people and advocate for the common concerns of reducing the stigma and discrimination against those affected by it. “Right now, we have a small team of Aman Foundation workers but we would like to promote appropriate interventions and work with all stakeholders in the community to promote mental health and well-being.”
Aman Foundation CEO Ahsan Jamil concurred. “Many people are suffering from common mental disorders, such as anxiety and mild to moderate depression.” The solutions, he explained, were available and if accessed, would allow the patients to live perfectly functional lives.
“People often don’t consult medical experts,” he lamented. “My question is that if people can take painkillers for aches and pains, why hesitate to consult experts for these disorders.” He was of the opinion that awareness was crucial to address the problems.
“There are only 27 consultant psychiatrists for a population of almost 20 million. This works out to one psychiatrist for every 750,000 individuals,” the Mashal report found.
Mashal is hoped to be the catalyst for change and aims to improve the way mental health services are delivered. Its ultimate goal is to give hope to people suffering from and stigmatised as a result of mental illnesses, said Dr Quraishy.
According to Aman Foundation trustee, Arif Naqvi, emotional and mental well-being is fundamental to the development of a responsible and dynamic society. “We neglect it at our peril,” he said.”Mental health is a major concern, and like in many less-developed countries, there is a huge stigma attached to mental health disorders in Pakistan. The result is denial of it consequnces.”
“MHFA is currently operating in 21 countries and Pakistan will be the 22nd country,” said Kitchener. “We will be pleased to work with the Mashal team.”
The ceremony also included an art exhibition displaying work related to mental health by Naheed Raza and Ali Wasif who donated the paintings to Mashal. Other art pieces by the Alleviate Addiction Suffering and the Karwan-e-Hayat were also displayed at the launch.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2014.