KARACHI, April 1: For Pakistanis, it is still a long way to go before the stigma associated with mental illnesses is done away with and it is imperative on the part of medical practitioners and communities that awareness is created to help those suffering from such illnesses.
Experts voiced this opinion at a seminar organised for increasing public awareness of mental health issues on Sunday.
Organised by the Pakistan Association of Mental Health (PAMH) in collaboration with department of psychiatry of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, the entire proceedings of the seminar were held in Urdu so that the attendees could understand various aspects of mental health.
The seminar was held at the time when emotions were running high in the country, particularly in Karachi, which was dealing with apparently never-ending strife and breakdown of law and order.
Given that most of the speakers were from one of the biggest public health facilities in Pakistan, the details shared by them gave an insight into the problems an average Pakistani had to face at the hands of their family as well as the medical community due to ignorance.
In his welcome address, PMAH president Prof S. Haroon Ahmed said that when it came to mental health, few people approached doctors themselves. “Most patients came through a ‘patient to patient/self’ basis while the rate of referrals from doctors and general practitioners remains low,” he said.
Using visual aids to present statistics, he stated that of the total 7,190 patients who were attended to between 2003 and 2010, 4,885 were referred through a ‘patient to patient’ basis.
Some 805 patients were sent for psychiatric check-ups through doctors while the remaining came seeking treatment after getting information from friends, mental health camps and other sources.
Of the total patients, only 52 people came after getting information through the media which highlighted the fact that even mainstream TV channels and newspapers stayed away from touching on mental health issues generally.
A special guest on the occasion, Brigadier Dr Mowadat Hussain Rana, highlighted the need for empathetic listening.
He said emotions were running high due to a sense of doom and gloom in the public and they were ready to ‘snap’.
“There is a high prevalence of pre-traumatic stress disorder as opposed to post-traumatic disorder. People live in the crippling fear of something bad happening to them and this is affecting their lives and relationships. In this sort of situation, it is important that we spend time listening to our loved ones.
“Listening to someone may help that person get their problems out of their mind and in our environment it is very important” he said.
“Most importantly, learn to count your blessings and be thankful to what you have now, rather than give in to negativity,” Dr Rana added.
In his lecture on ‘Health and mental health’, Dr Iqbal Afridi of the JPMC stressed the importance of mental well-being.
“In Pakistan, the people are scared and feel embarrassed when it comes to seeking treatment for mental illness. Given that a majority of our population suffers from depression and our health facilities are also inadequate, it is important to equip our general practitioners with the understanding so that they can identify patients and send them for appropriate treatment.”
Dr Zafar Hussain discussed ‘psychosis’ and explained the difference between mania and schizophrenia. He was of the opinion that mania and schizophrenia afflicted most of the patients suffering from mental disorders, adding that both could be managed perfectly with timely treatment.
Dr Wasdev discussed ‘drug dependency’ in the Pakistani context.
Dr Ilyas Baloch gave a presentation on ‘anxiety disorders’ while Dr Javeria went on to share important points about ‘psychosomatic disorder’.
Senior registrar of the department of psychiatry of the JPMC Dr Chooni Lal gave a lecture on ‘depression’.
“Almost 44.4 per cent of our population suffers from depression. We need to realise that the cure for depression does not lie with pirs and faqirs [faith healers]. Rather, it is important to take the individual to a good medical practitioner. Furthermore, it is important that families are sensitised to the illness so that they can provide a supportive environment to a patient and help them recover,” Dr Lal maintained.
He said that women were more prone to depression and suggested lifestyle changes and stressed the need for more physical activity.
He said exercise and workout led to the release of endorphins which produced a ‘feeling of well-being’.
On the occasion, the website for PAMH was also launched.
The website www.pamh.org.pk is an online resource designed to provide help to those who want basic factual information on mental health issues.
On the website, there are articles in Urdu as well which give information about epilepsy, bipolar disorder, mental retardation, stress and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).