There is an increasing prominence of the mental health issues faced by residents of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) as more and more people are seeking help for mental health concerns. Nearly 25,000 people in the province have sought help for mental illnesses in just the first four months of this year. Sooner or later, something like this was inevitably bound to happen; the oppressed people of K-P have faced many mass casualties at the hands of terrorists over the past decade, causing severe trauma and devastation to people belonging to all age groups alike. At this time, the province needs the support of mental health providers and the nation as a whole to overcome the tragedies it has faced.
While the high numbers of K-P residents seeking help is a welcome trend, we need to study the percentages to elucidate whether the majority of the population is getting the help it requires. In order to encourage more people to seek help, the provincial health department needs to promote knowledge about the highly negative consequences of psychological illnesses caused by events in the province. Knowledge about the symptoms of afflictions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and certain anxiety disorders, must be spread to the people so that they may recognise the signs and seek appropriate help. There is also the problem of ready availability of over-the-counter benzodiazepenes and other treatment drugs. These can be dangerous. In developed countries, they are considered controlled substances, i.e., they are prescribed by physicians only if deemed safe and effective for treatment. Thus, information about the dangers of self-medication must also be conveyed to the population.
Sadly, K-P is not alone in the struggles it has faced due to terrorism; the people of Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan have all experienced post-traumatic stress at multiple times. To promote the wellbeing of all citizens of Pakistan, universities and colleges need to institute more psychology programmes at the graduate level, replete with cutting-edge research so that professionals can remain in the country and help their own citizens rather than seek livelihoods abroad. Nonetheless, it is a welcome development that more people are beginning to approach professionals despite cultural sensitivities and stigmas.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2014.
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